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Inspector Frans J. Palmu, depicted as "a gruff detective of the Helsinki police department", is one of the most popular characters created by Finnish writer Mika Waltari (who is, however, better known outside Finland for his historical novels).
The character starred in three mystery novels, all of which were filmed. The second book was filmed first while Kaasua, Komisario Palmu is based on the first novel. The film's Swedish title is the same as that of the original story. A fourth film was made without Waltari's involvement. The script was written by Georg Korkman and Matti Kassila, who also directed all four films. In addition Tähdet kertovat, komisario Palmu was written by Waltari knowingly so that it could be filmed.
The first movie was produced by Suomi-Filmi and the latter three by Fennada. Joel Rinne plays Palmu in all four films and is accompanied by his jack-of-all-trades assistant (later restaurant owner) Väinö Kokki played by Leo Jokela and Toivo Virta the university-educated officer (who eventually outranks Palmu) played by Matti Ranin.
Inspector Palmu is depicted as an extremely forward elder officer who is only interested in facts. He also has a keen sense for when someone is lying, and is often frustrated by the bureaucracy of the police department. Though Palmu can be forward and even openly rude he is shown being extremely sensitive around women, though he was irritated by a sexually promiscuous lady in Tähdet kertovat, komisario Palmu. Palmu can also sometimes act more jovially, and will make jokes to irritate suspects to take action, and reveal their motives. On occasion Palmu also has a stroke of luck, such as finding a cyanide bottle in a vase, when he looked into it out of sheer curiosity in Komisario Palmun Erehdys.
One of Palmu's most notorious techniques for solving crimes is baiting the murderer to reveal his/herself. For instance, he had Virta reveal that a suspect had spent the night at the mansion of the deceased victim in order to smoke out the murderer whose identity he had already deduced, but needed to catch red-handed in order to have arrested. This, and Palmu's bluntness, often lead to arguments between him and Virta whom Palmu would constantly keep in the dark and talk down to. However, Palmu shows his respect to Virta's abilities though he has a tendency to take credit for his ideas, he also turns to him whenever he has trouble remembering sophisticated terminology. Virta eventually rises to outrank Palmu by the time of Tähdet kertovat. Despite their differences he has a level of respect for Palmu and even takes a bullet for him in the first movie.
Palmu's age is a constant source for jokes in the films, such as his tendency to take naps in his office. Palmu is also extremely meditative adding to the illusion that he's too old for his job, while in reality he always thinks of the most likely solution to the crime first.
Palmu is unmarried in the novels and the first three films, but apparently marries after his retirement from the police force, as seen in the fourth film.
Each of the Palmu films depicts police work in very meticulous detail, while containing elements of more traditional murder mystery fiction. Vodkaa, komisario Palmu takes place after Palmu has retired from the police-force, and is hired by the Finnish Broadcasting Company, Yleisradio, to keep them in the loop on a politically sensitive murder. This film focuses considerably more on the media (though their role is also explored somewhat in the third film as well) and on Finland's relations with the Soviet Union.
Generally the first three films are the best received. The fourth movie is best known for its tongue-in-cheek and action movie inspired finale scene, in which the murderer is chased by the police and secret agents.
- Pentti Siimes plays a completely different role in each of the first three Palmu movies: the university student Aimo Rykämö in the first film, artist Kurt Kuurna in the second and journalist Nopsanen in the third.
- Aino Mantsas plays three different roles in the first three films: Alli Rygseck the second victim in the first film, Iiri Salmia the Russian club singer and Annika Vadenblick in the third.
- Esko Salminen played cadet Leppä in the second film and a more prominent role, the greaser Ville Valkonen, in the third film. He also had an uncredited bit role in the first film as one of the guests in Bruno Rygseck's pool party.
- Elina Salo, who portrayed Airi Rykämö in the first movie also played Kirsti Skrof in the second.
- Toivo Mäkelä who appears in a bit role as the pianist in the first movie, returned in a more prominent role as judge Lanne in the second.
Novels featuring Inspector Palmu
- Kuka murhasi Rouva Skrofin? (1939)
- Komisario Palmun erehdys (1940)
- Tähdet kertovat, komisario Palmu (1962)