Film Review: Chess Fever (1925)
Proof that silent Russian cinema is not only required viewing for serious film appreciation students.
Thanks to their lofty presence in popular media courses, the words Russian Cinema brings up pictures of serious technical virtuosity from which the whole world took lessons from and nothing much more. They have been relegated to merely text-book study of montages, camera movements etc. All very well-deserved, of course but there is another facet of Silent Russian Cinema that has been neglected.
Russian silent era also produced a wealth of comedies, that, at least, some believe are similar to what Buster Keaton and later Charles Chaplin did. While one can understand why people would feel so, for me this point remains arguable. One can, if forcing the point, declare the lead of the film under discussion a bit 'Keateon-esque' but I feel they are both product of their own countries, independent of each other.
Chess Fever is a mixture of real footage of the massive Chess Tournament that had caught the people's imagination at that time and a fictional story spun around this obsession. It concerns a nerd (Vladimir Flogel) whose obsession with chess threaten to ruins his love life.
He is so taken with this chess fever that he even forgets his own wedding day. His clothes are jam-packed with little chess boards, multiple books about chess strategies. Director Vsevolod Pudovkin uses each opportunity in the script to put inventive set-pieces. Our hero's introduction has several cute little kittens popping from his pockets, sleeves, drawers and even shoes!
One other which stresses on the fact that this is a national obsession not just confined to our hero, is when Flogel's angry fiance starts emptying his pockets of chess paraphernalia by throwing it in the streets. Each person it lands on instantly recognizes the little books for what they are and immediately start either playing or reading. In one instance, a cop and robber become friends too!
This film is also known for the presence of real life chess world champion José Raúl Capablanca. Capablanca may not be an actor but the twinkle in his eye suggests that he knows his presence is enough.
Chess Fever - original title Shakhmatnaya goryachka - along with other comedy classics such as The Girl with a Hatbox, Tailor from Torzhok etc. are proof that Russia was inventing cinema and its rich language not just via political films but through comedies too.
Pudovkin went out to make his name with such classics as Mother (1926), but Chess Fever is also a great display of his talent.
Here is the film in its entirety of 20 mts.