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The Chess Player

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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(Jul 29, 2003)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

This powerful drama of patriotism, betrayal and suspense combines gorgeous decors and thousands of extras. In 1776 Poland, nobleman Boleslas Vorowski heads a secret liberation movement against Russia and learns his childhood sweetheart, Sophie, loves his friend, a Russian officer. When Vorowsky is wounded in battle, his mentor, the inventor Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen, constructs a marvelous chess- playing automaton which, when summoned by Catherine the Great, holds the fate of Polish independence by a single, suspenseful chess game. Like Abel Gance's Napoleon, director Raymond Bernard "Demands a veritable ovation: the cavalry charge reaches heights never before reached in film. So magnificent... So splendid!" - Cinemagazine

In his landmark history of silent filmmaking The Parade's Gone By..., Kevin Brownlow praised "the imaginative and powerful historical dramas" of Raymond Bernard and regretted their neglect. Now Brownlow has restored Bernard's The Chess Player, a truly epic film in the Abel Gance tradition. Its allegory of Poland's 18th-century struggle for independence from Russia also aspires to a Gance-like dynamism in the camerawork--occasionally handheld, it would seem--and editing, which in two sequences reaches for nothing less than visual music. Still, the film's most audacious, and enduringly weird, dynamics involve one character's penchant for constructing automatons. These include a Turk in a box "who" can beat anybody in Europe at chess--to the royal pique of Empress Catherine the Great. The final reels pose the question, "How many Polish automatons does it take to unscrew a tyranny?" The haunting answer must have made this film a favorite with the Surrealists. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Dullin, Édith Jéhanne, Camille Bert, Pierre Batcheff
  • Directors: Raymond Bernard
  • Writers: Raymond Bernard, Henry Dupuis-Mazuel, Jean-José Frappa
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, Silent, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: July 29, 2003
  • Run Time: 135 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00009Q4W8
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,809 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Chess Player" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Chess Player is set in 1776, but rather than being a story of Americans fighting to gain independence, it is a story of Poles struggling to regain their independence from Russia. Dashing Polish nobleman Boleslas Vorowski leads the resistance using both his skill as a fighter and as a chess player to undermine the Russians. Eventually he has to go into hiding and the resistance movement devises a scheme to deceive his pursuers. Vorowski is hidden inside a mechanical chess-playing automaton called the Turk. He uses his skill at the game to defeat all comers, but this success leads him into danger. When an invitation arrives to play chess with Catherine the Great in Saint Petersburg, he must journey to the heart of the Russian empire and face a chess player who doesn't like to lose.
The Chess player is a spectacular film with many stunning scenes. It is beautiful to look at with lavish sets and costumes. The acting is good and the direction is often inspired, displaying impressive filmmaking technique with its use of unusual camera angles and inventive camera movement. The editing at times resembles the fast, creative style of filmmakers like Eisenstein and Pudovkin. But The Chess Player, although well worth seeing, is rather a flawed film. The story is slight and at times rather ludicrous. It does not have the depth to justify the epic scope of the film. The biggest problem is that the story of the chess-playing automaton fits uneasily into a story of the Polish struggle for independence. The focus on chess and various automata tends to trivialise momentous events. While it is a feast for the senses, the film does not engage the emotions as much as it should. It includes a love triangle, but the potential of this aspect of the story is not fully developed.
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Comment 14 of 15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
In his book THE PARADE'S GONE BY Kevin Brownlow mentions THE CHESS PLAYER and other films by Raymond Bernard as being among the treasures of late silent cinema so it's no surprise that his Photoplay Productions was responsible for this magnificent restoration. What is surprising is that the restoration was done in 1990 and is only now coming to DVD. At least four different 35mm prints were used to create this complete version which also features a modern recording of the original Henri Rambaud score done by Brownlow's longtime musical partner Carl Davis.

As for the picture itself, I wish I could say that I was totally bowled over by the film as I have waited a long time to see it, but I wasn't. The sets and costumes are the equal of NAPOLEON, the cinematography is a striking combination of Eisenstein and Gance, and part of the story is based on historical fact (there really was a Baron von Kempelen in the late 18th century who created a mechanical chess player called the Turk) but Bernard is no Abel Gance. At 140 minutes the film seemed far too long for the story it had to tell. The pace flags from time to time especially in the romantic scenes which seem to interrupt the flow of the movie. Nevertheless THE CHESS PLAYER is chock full of startling images thanks to the automaton subplot. The final sequence inside the inventor's house will stay with you for a long time afterwards. The performances for the most part are subservient to the overall look of the film but Charles Dullin as the Baron makes the most of the film's best role.

The film is definitely worth having as there is so little of late European silent cinema available on home video.
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Comment 11 of 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
This French silent movie was apparently discovered and refurbished by a group of British computer scientists fascinated by the automaton chess player from which the film gets its title. However, The Chess Player is a magnificently patriotic film chronicling an 18th Century Polish revolution against Russian occupation. The soundtrack has been constructed by someone who knows the old revolutionary songs of the Polish nation. There is one scene where the Poles are losing the battle, but the heroine, at a site remote from the battle, goes to her piano plays variations of Boze Cos Polska (God Save Poland) and sees above the piano the split screen reality she wishes, namely a victorious charge of Polish cavalry sweeping away the Russians. (There is simultaneous viewing of the grim reality, where the Poles without artillery are being blown to pieces.)There may be an earlier version in cinema of the split screen dual reality, but I am unaware of it. In some ways, The Chess Player, though purely a French production, could be considered a Polish "Birth of a Nation." No doubt the French screenwriter profited from Griffith's epic shot 12 years earlier. There are a number of scenes which have a good deal of resonance with those familiar with the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. For example, there is the portrayal of an old Polish couple being stood against a wall and shot by a Russian firing squad. An event repeated countless times during the 200 plus years of Russian occupation. This is the best edited, reconstructed, and soundtracked silent movie I have viewed. A truly magnificent contribution to world cinema.
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