Study the poster at the left. Looks intriguing, yes? Two blond, Nordic types backing away from a giant, alien eye. Then there's the ballyhoo advertising promising "thousands against an ominous diabolical force from another world" (italics mine). Last but not least there's the cast. Marvin Miller I was at least aware of, he of the sonorous voice who had narrated countless films of this type and had done voice-overs on a number of television series, as well as starring in the 1955 TV show THE MILLIONAIRE. The other cast members, however, left me scratching my head. Nina Anderson? Jon Powers? Where had I seen them before? Nowhere, as it turns out ... and thereby hangs our tale ...
Roger Corman, in addition to producing and directing a number of low-budget features of his own, had another talent, which we'll call the 'stock footage switcheroo'. He would find a European feature (usually of the science fiction variety), keep the special effects footage, add his own actors while dubbing over the original ones, and completely change the plots. His best trick of this type was once making TWO separate features with the SAME footage - three years apart! If you're brave, watch 1965's VOYAGE TO THE PREHISTORIC PLANET and 1968's VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN back-to-back. It's brain-numbing!
Roger's company (Filmgroup) purchased the American distribution rights to this film, re-dubbed it, re-cut it, re-voiced it and released it unheralded as the bottom half of a number of AIP double features of the time, after which it was quickly sold off for TV reruns. It's a shame, because the tale of the film itself is MUCH more interesting ...
The original tale of SAMPO comes from the epic Finnish poem, the Kalevala (for more on this amazing work, see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalevala). A statue of the author of this work, Elias Lönnrot, comes to life to begin the film. The story concerns the love between Lemminkainen (Andris Oshin), a soldier and woodcutter and Annikki (Eve Kivi), a lovely young maiden. For their impending nuptials, Annikki's brother Ilmarinen (Ivan Voronov), the village blacksmith, undertakes to build the magical Sampo, a forged machine that will bring good fortune to the village, along with grain, salt and gold (think a metallic Horn of Plenty).
Someone else has been trying in vain to build a Sampo: the witch Louhi (Anna Orochko) - she has had her wizened gnomes work her forge day and night to produce a Sampo, all to no avail. Frustrated and on the point of putting her lead blacksmith to death, she uses her magic and finds out Ilmarinen is the only one who knows the proper procedure for making the machine. Watching him and the lovely Annikki, Louhi hears of Ilmarinen's plans and makes plans of her own. When Annikki sits at the dock in the family boat, Louhi flings her black cloak across the sea, which speedily goes to Annikki and turns into the sail of her ship, kidnapping the young maiden and bringing her to the witch's clutches.
Lemminkainen and Ilmarinen go to her rescue. How? By cutting down an oak tree and carving it into a rescue craft. Yes, it WOULD have been simpler to just ... oh, BORROW somebody else's boat, but that's not how REAL heroes do these things! :) By the way, if ever there was a film where trees were an endangered species, this is that film. Between the opening shots of Lemminkainen and his friends cutting down a HUGE swath of trees, this boat-making scene and the finale, NO tree is safe in Finland!
Our heroes arrive on Louhi's island to rescue Annikki. She tells them they can have the girl, if they both promise to undertake one task for her in return. They agree, and Lemminkainen goes first. The task? He must plow a field of deadly snakes. Ilmarinen comes to his future brother-in-law's rescue by forging him a bronze horse. When the field is plowed, Louhi turns to Ilmarinen and demands his task ... yep, you guessed it. Build HER a Sampo! The problem: he can only make the magical machine ONCE - if he makes it for the witch, then his family and village will suffer. But Louhi will not accept any other gift, so he proceeds (with the help of her gnomes at the forge) to build it.
Ilmarinen returns to Louhi's forge one final time, bringing forth a magical steel boat to carry the three of them home. With the Sampo at her control, Louhi has no lost all interest in her captives and they sail away.
SAMPO has been released in different versions: as the American-International cut-down, redubbed version THE DAY THE EARTH FROZE (which I've been discussing above) and as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Sadly, the original release of the film is unavailable (and long-overdue). Now, if you'll excuse me, I must attend to my forge ... I've got some grain and salt and gold to produce ...
Next Time: Keep watching the skies! I'll tell you all about our fourth Annual U.F.O. Party, where I pulled out all the stops with a showing of the very first documentary ever made about Flying Saucers and the return of a "certain someone" that actually made one of our viewers cry! :) It's all next time here at Conjure Cinema!