The only Cinerama venue in Finland
The 70mm Newsletter
by: Rabbe Sandelin. Images
© Rabbe Sandelin, except when noted.
Savoy is today a regular stage theatre, but the old Cinerama signboard is
still neatly in place. The Finnish word for "Theatre" fits perfectly.
In 2010 the old signboard was regrettably replaced by a new one
Although I'm too young to have experienced Cinerama in the Savoy
cinema in Helsinki, one of my fondest film memories is from 1977, when
Savoy obtained a 70mm print of "Star Wars", and the breathtaking opening
shot of the space ship had me hooked on wide-screen cinema ever since.
The Savoy was for a long time the biggest cinema house in Helsinki. It was
built in 1937 in central Helsinki, when some old buildings were
demolished, and the new Industripalatset office building was built by the
A. Ahlström company, which still has its main office in the building. One
of the finest restaurants in Helsinki and a big cinema were also planned
for the building by architects Valter and Bertel Jung, responsible for
many other interesting buildings in Helsinki, for instance the Torni
The new cinema was inspired by big cinema houses in Germany and Austria,
and it has also been said that
Radio City Music Hall in New York served as
an inspiration. A lot of the original decor is still in place, although
many modifications have been made to accommodate the present use as a
stage and musical theatre for visiting shows.
in 70mm reading:
in70mm.com's Cinerama page
Cinemas in Åbo
Bergmansgatan 3 B
Savoy has fortunately not been demolished in the wake of the multiplex boom.
Since 1987 it functions as a stage play and musical theatre under the
auspices of the Helsinki City Cultural Office.
The first public film exhibition was held on September 1, 1937. Two
invitation only showings had been held in August. The audience
expectations were heightened by having two curtains - a velour curtain
revealed a second silvery curtain lit by colored lights, which
subsequently was drawn to reveal the moving picture.
The first film shown was "Souls at Sea" with Gary Cooper and George Raft (Finnish title "Vaarojen laiva"). During a stormy sea scene, the effect was heightened by
expanding the screen size and turning the volume up.
view from the balcony of the 200 square metre Savoy screen taken in the
Cinerama days in the 1960's. Due in part to the big Cinerama projection
room, the maximum seating capacity dropped from 845 in the 1930's to 538.
By kind permission of The
Finnish Film Archive. All rights reserved.
Revues and live shows were part of the venue from the start, so a small
orchestra pit and a small stage had been built in front of the projection
screen. During the second world war, Swedish vaudeville king Palle Hagman
brought Josephine Baker to the Savoy stage.
In February 1944 during the Soviet bombing raids, a bomb landed on the
street in front of the cinema, and extensive damage was done. The
"temporary" doors which were installed, were in fact in use until the
The cinema was run from 1937 to 1953 by Nils Dahlström, first in
conjunction with Suomi Filmi, from 1943 onwards as an independent
entrepreneur. From 1953 to 1983 Savoy was run by charismatic sea captain
Savoy cinema was built in 1937 in the Industripalatset building in central
Now follows an excerpt from the memoirs of Rainer Määttä (1932-2001),
projectionist and engineer at Savoy during the 60's, and also famous movie
poster painter (Many thanks to Kuhmo film enthusiast Jukka Lankinen for this
The Nilsson cinema house company - peaking with Cinerama-Savoy.
Lars Nilsson was originally a sea captain. His wife Bertha owned five cinema
houses in Turku (Casino, Domino, Olympia, Scala and Rialto), and luckily for
the Finnish cinema trade, he quit his life at sea and started expanding the
Nil-Kino company. Among other acquisitions, he bought Savoy in 1953. The
cinema was purpose built as a cinema house and stage venue. It had 841
seats, a balcony and a very functional lobby. The projector room was big,
and technically top-notch.
Late in the 1950's Nilsson installed a 70mm
Todd-AO system, with two
Victoria 10 35/70 projectors, two Victoria VR text projectors and a six
channel sound system. The 70mm premiere was "South Pacific" on April 1,
In 1962 Nilsson sent me to Paris to check out the Gaumont Palace Cinerama
theatre. I visited the projection room and the theatre, which had enormous
proportions; 4000 seats, with a 600 square meter screen. I saw "How The West
Was Won". Later I took some pictures of the theatre and projector room and
reported back to Nilsson in Helsinki. A couple of years later Savoy was
extensively converted to Finland's first and only
A couple of experts from the Cinerama company were involved in the
conversion, but most of the installations were done by the finnish
Kinotarpeita Oy company run by Alf Biström.
Savoy was planned by architects Jung & Jung. The concept and layout was
inspired by big cinema houses in Germany and Austria. Radio City Music Hall
in New York has also been mentioned as a source of inspiration.
I helped installing the new 200 square meter Cinerama screen consisting of
1800 separate strips. A new projector room had to be built on the balcony,
which reduced the seat number to 538. Some seats on the edges of the room
were also removed because of the changing sight-lines due to the big concave
The machines were at the time unique for Finland. Three
Victoria 8 high
power projectors of 480 amps throwed the gigantic picture on the screen, and
a separate sound projector catered for the 7 channel sound through 30
speakers. 4-5 projectionists were active during he shows.
The street billboard was also renewed and I worked with the Airam company on
the [then] unique 20 meter acrylic billboard with colored removable type,
topped off by the CINERAMA-logo in the ends.
The first Cinerama show was "This is Cinerama", which had been the highest
grossing movie in the USA the previous two years. The second show was
"Windjammer", which depicted the Norwegian school ship Christian Radich.
"Windjammer", with its incredibly realistic scenes, drew bigger audiences
than "This is Cinerama". The third show, "How The West Was Won", was also a
I sincerely believe that without captain Nilsson's entrepreneurship Finland
would have been left out of Todd-AO and Cinerama, and many other technical
developments in the cinema trade. [end of excerpt]
Rainer Määttä left the cinema business in 1967 and opened a successful chain
of photography shops in Helsinki.
Savoy continued as one of the handful of 70mm cinemas in Helsinki. Huge
successes continued up till the late 70's, for instance with the "Star Wars"
movies. With declining cinema attendance in the 80's it probably became
harder and harder to fill the room, and at the same time I remember that
Savoy was being left behind, especially in the sound department. The best
70mm shows were subsequently (and still to this day) exhibited at the 599
seat Bristol, which installed a THX certified sound system in the 80's.
The Savoy's days as a cinema ended in 1983. In 1986 the present function as
a stage for visiting productions and musicals was started by the Helsinki
City Cultural Office.
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