Starring: Vladimir Fogel, Anna Zemtsova, Zakhar Darevsky, Konstantin Eggert, Natalya Glan, F. Ivanov, Boris Barnet, Jose Raul Capablanca
Reviewed by Jeremy Silman
Rating (a 1 – 6 scale): 5
I’ve seen lots of chess oriented movies and television shows, but few really made much of an impression. Of course, being chess players we always hope that such films will affect us deeply, that someone will finally manage to properly portray the energy and artistry that is the chess experience – but some measure of disappointment is usually the result.
Aside from the amazing hour-long chess episode of Lexx
for a detailed description), which is a TV show and not a movie, I have found this twenty-eight minute, black and white silent film to be the finest depiction of chess passion I’ve ever encountered. Note the word "passion.” Instead of looking at the game as an intellectual exercise, which most renditions tend to push, this movie shows its addictive nature, and the passion that it imparts to those of us that love it.
Chess Fever is a comedy about a man who, though soon to be married, already has a mistress – chess. His bride-to-be, knowing nothing of the game but seeing that his heart resides on the sixty-four squares of the chessboard, freaks out and storms onto the snow-covered streets in hysteria.
The poor women – already over the edge – sees chess everywhere: on billboards, on the streets, and even played in an apothecary where she seeks poison so she can end the nightmare. What she doesn’t know is that a now famous tournament (Moscow 1925) is being held just blocks away. Suffice it to say that Capablanca (yes, the real Capablanca!) saves the day, and film footage of Marshall, Torre, Reti and other legends makes this a must own for any true fan of chess.
It’s important to note that much of this classic film’s success can be attributed to the director, Vsevolod Pudovkin (1893 to 1953). Known as one of the greatest artists of Soviet silent films (French critic Léon Moussinac said: "Pudovkin’s films resemble a song, Eisenstein’s a scream.”), his movies and his writings (Film Technique combines his two books on film theory into one volume) continue to be studied in film classes worldwide.
Whether you’re a student of film history, or simply a man or woman in love with the mysteries and depths that make up chess, you’re in for a treat. Buy Chess Fever, or rent it, but do watch it!