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The Chess Player
The Chess Player
Actors: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Dullin, Édith Jéhanne, Camille Bert, Pierre Batcheff
Director: Raymond Bernard
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
NR     2003     2hr 15min

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 child...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Dullin, Édith Jéhanne, Camille Bert, Pierre Batcheff
Director: Raymond Bernard
Creators: Hemard, Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, Marc Bujard, Willy Faktorovitch, Raymond Bernard, Henry Dupuis-Mazuel, Jean-José Frappa
Genres: Indie & Art House, Classics, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Silent Films, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Studio: Image Entertainment
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 07/29/2003
Original Release Date: 05/17/1930
Theatrical Release Date: 05/17/1930
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 2hr 15min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Chess and Revolution
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 08/03/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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. The fate of the characters should be much more moving than it is. The tinted print on the Image DVD is generally very good. There are some scratches and occasionally the picture is rather soft especially in close-ups. Generally though, the print looks wonderful and the restoration by Photoplay productions is first rate. The orchestral score by Henri Rabaud works well. It fits the action and the mood of the film and is a joy to listen to. The DVD includes as extras a radio interview about the historical chess-playing automaton, some stills from the film, a reproduction of the original programme and a text interview with the director. I was pleased to obtain this DVD for it is a very good presentation of an interesting film. While The Chess Player may not be a great film, I enjoyed watching it and found much to admire even as I was aware of its faults."
Magnificent Restoration Of A Long Lost Epic.
Chip Kaufmann | Asheville, N.C. United States | 08/03/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)

"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. One only hopes that Brownlow's restorations of Gance's NAPOLEON, Rex Ingram's FOUR HORSEMAN OF THE APOCALYPSE, Stroheim's GREED, and many others will soon make it to DVD (the original 1925 PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is coming out in September '03). While THE CHESS PLAYER may not be a film for the ages, it's still a mighty good one and an epic of true proportions as well. We all owe Kevin Brownlow & Co our heartfelt thanks for making these movies available to us once again."
A Polish Birth of a Nation
pareto | Texas USA | 04/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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."
A Stylish and superior silent classic
Barbara (Burkowsky) Underwood | Manly, NSW Australia | 09/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is surely one of the silent era's most outstanding and special films which probably deserves to be much more famous than it is. Made in the mid to late 1920s when silent films reached their peak of excellence in quality and style, "The Chess Player" excels in all aspects of dramatic cinema. In the years when historic costume dramas were popular, this French production goes to great lengths and details in costume and décor fitting the late 18th century of Eastern Europe. And like many such costume dramas, historic fact blends with fiction to make an entertaining and fascinating film. And the most fascinating aspect of "The Chess Player" is that it is based on fact, namely a chess-playing automaton, or robot, which entertained royalty and the greatest minds of the time, and since there simply was no such technology around 1800, the chess playing aspect of the automaton was some kind of trick. Based on these facts, a romantic story is woven involving war-torn Poland and Lithuania, a love triangle and other intrigues in which the automaton plays a central part.

Beautiful and skilful photography, lavish sets and costumes, and some fascinating scenes of automatons - often human actors moving like puppets - are some of the highlights. Orchestral music has been carefully composed and played to suit the film perfectly, and with perfectly restored picture quality, "The Chess Player" can really take you back in time to another era. Back in the real world however, the DVD also has various interesting and informative bonus features such as a radio interview with the author of a book called "The Turk", all about this Turkish-looking automaton which captivated the world over two centuries ago with its apparent first-class chess playing skills. Besides being a wonderful lesson in history, "The Chess Player" also ranks as a superior silent film, particularly of the costume/historic genre, and should belong in any serious silent film collection.