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