Chess Fever (1925)

José Raúl Capablanca, Vladimir Fogel, Anna Zemtsova, Natalya Glan,
Shakhmatnaya goryachka is a short starring José Raúl Capablanca, Vladimir Fogel, and Anna Zemtsova. With an international chess tournament in progress, a young man becomes completely obsessed with the game. His fiancée has no...
  • 7.2 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2020-07-31 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Vsevolod Pudovkin, Nikolai Shpikovsky, Director:
  • Producer:
7 / 10

One of Cinema's Few Comedies About Chess

A Russian silent comedy doesn't really sound that enticing, does it? But this really isn't that bad. It follows the fortunes of a young man who is completely obsessed with chess. At first the film looks as if it might be a dry and serious study of the game, but then we're introduced to our hero. For some reason he has dozens of kittens in his flat, most of them living in his shoes or his jacket pockets. This chap is so obsessed with the game that he is magnetically drawn to a chess shop even though he is late for a date with his girlfriend. Even his socks and hankie have chessboard patterns. Of course, this is all driving his girlfriend to distraction?

There are quite a few good laugh-out- loud moments in this short, directed by the Russian master Pudovkin, and it's at least the equal of most of the comedies coming out of Hollywood at the time. There's also the bonus of glimpses of a snow-covered Russian cityscape with troikas rushing past in the background.

8 / 10

Funny.

A clever and funny story of a man addicted to chess. Most interesting for its place in the infamous Soviet montage period of early cinema, this film takes us through the cartoon-like events of a man and his girlfriend. She becomes desperate to sway him from his chess fever, and can only think of one solution...

On the whole, the film is worth watching, short, and lots of fun.

8 / 10

A film from the Soviet which doesn't try to tell you how to think, AND makes you laugh.

An absolute pippin of a short, all the more surprising when you think of the dour heavy-handedness that mars Pudovkin's most famous work. Just as delightful is the subject's ambiguity - a welcome break from the wearing, mathematical propaganda that is much of Soviet cinema.

The central ambiguity of the film is: does it celebrate conformity, or is it a satire on it? In favour of the former proposition is the fact that everyone's playing chess. Like the myth that all Dublin cab-drivers are learned Joyceans, the Soviet populace as a whole seem obsessed with the rigorously intellectual game of chess. The film opens with some dispiritingly authentic chess tournaments - yep, just grandmasters sitting at tables, playing chess, and people watching. Then the comedy begins. Its conflict is that a chess nut's fiancee loathes the game, and cannot escape from it wherever she turns. Her only chance of happiness is to conform to society's pleasure.

On the other hand, this pleasure is roundly mocked, and the insanity of the chess obsession leads the film from documentary realism, into fantasy, absurdity and the supernatural. The hero is a bonkers chess addict - his cap, scarf and socks are checkered, as is his cigarette case, while he has miniature chess boards, rule books and problem setters all over his body. His straightforward journey to his fiancee is constantly interrupted by chess-related obstacles, which are quite clearly seen to have a fetishistic power over him. This power extends to society as a whole: in one particularly piquant episode, a thief about to be nabbed by a policeman is saved because a stray chessboard falls his way; the hunter and hunted stop to play. Here the mixture of chess and chance are seen to have a disruptive effect on the smooth running of society.

I suppose whatever way you read it depends on how you view the game itself. In one way it calls for extraordinary intellectual and imaginative powers, the ability to think of alternatives, which runs contrary to the rigidities of a police state. However, chess itself is a rigid game, the board a prison with minutely defined rules. The pieces, like the citizens in a police state, are at their masters' bidding, forever running around in labyrinthine patterns. The film might be quite subversive.

What it certainly is is a hilarious treat, full of great visual gags and in-jokes, as well as a disturbingly logical Alice in Wonderland-like erosion of structures, and a heroine whose unhappiness is a strange melancholic malaise. There is an irreverent sense of jeu d'esprit almost entirely absent from Soviet cinema.

9 / 10

I loved this film!

I've seen a reasonable number of Russian films and it seems that all the Soviet films available in the US are extremely serious in nature--such as ANDREY RUBLYOV, WAR AND PEACE, POTEMKIN, IVAN THE TERRIBLE, THE CRANES ARE FLYING, SOLARIS and the like. So I was not expecting to find a funny film--and CHESS FEVER was hilarious! In fact, I'd place this silent comedy in the same category as a Keaton or Chaplin short--it's that funny.

The film begins with a geeky guy who absolutely loves chess. It's his wedding day, but he can't seem to focus on anything but chess. Seeing him in his crappy apartment with cats EVERYWHERE was pretty funny--you just have to see it to believe it. By the time he eventually makes it to his fiancée's home, hours have passed and she has had enough. She dumps the jerk and runs into a sympathetic man--who just happens to be the Soviet champion. However, he's no dummy--and he ISN'T interested in chess! Eventually, the boyfriend decides to give up chess forever--leading to a funny conclusion.

From the description above, it doesn't sound like a very funny film...but it is. There are so many cute little jokes and laughs that I couldn't help but laugh out loud several times--something I don't normally do when I watch a film. Overall, it's well written, acted and a lot of fun and it left me wondering if there are any more Russian films like this! If you know of any, let me know.

7 / 10

Chess's Reefer Madness

This is a delightful little film. It is about ultimate addiction. The basic plot involves a young man (they had nerds back in 1925 in Russia), and his relationship with his fiancée. He lives and breathes chess (as do, it seems, most of the Russian people). He carries books, pamphlets, and little chess sets all over his person. He shows up three hours late for a meeting with his young lady, and while she is forgiving him, he has set up a board on a checkered handkerchief that he has put on the floor so he can kneel. As the young woman decides to kill herself, she can't get away from chess. It's there at every turn. Even the container of poison she buys looks like a chess piece. It is all ludicrous, but the comic timing and pratfalls are really cute.