In 1925 Russia ‘Tis Chess, not Love that conquers all – CHESS FEVER from Flicker Alley

If you’d told me a 1925 Soviet comedy about chess would delight I’d’ve said выбраться отсюда!  Yet, I was indeed delighted by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shpikovsky‘s CHESS FEVER.


In the real world of Moscow in 1925 the city hosted the first state-sponsored Chess Tournament between November 10 and December 8.  During the entire near-month-long event hundreds of Soviet citizens gathered to watch white and black and black and white make their calculated moves and tens of thousands of others across the country awaited news each and every day.  Present for much of the tournament were director Pudovkin and his camera, allowed to record the happenings on the pretext of making a documentary.  But what the director actually did was use some of the tournament footage to enhance the story depicted in CHESS FEVER by interspersing actual tournament footage with the scripted, acted scenes.  Woven together is the tale of a young man (Vladimir Fogel) who misses his own wedding ceremony because of his obsession with chess.


On his wedding day the hero of the story has trouble leaving his house, jumping from side to side as he plays both sides of a chess game.  Eventually he makes it out of the door, but more than two hours after his wedding was to take place.  In the meantime we see his fiance (Anna Zemtsova) growing more and more distraught and by the time the young man shows up she’s convinced chess is the root of all evil.


As you can see from the image above, one must feel sorry for the young man who is distracted by the dreaded disease even while attempting to reconcile with the woman he loves.  By this point we’ve seen him try to fight all kinds of forces that are beyond his control as he makes his way to her.  These include distractions of tournament news from Moscow, parquet floors that make for perfect chess boards and actual magnetic forces that make him go into a shop where the owner awaits passersby to engage in chess play.

Unable to overcome how she’s been placed second to chess, the young woman vows to kill herself except that when she steps out into the world she is tortured by CHESS EVERYWHERE!  CHESS FEVER HAS GONE VIRAL!  Even infants are playing.


Ironically, it is real-life World Chess Champion José Raúl Capablanca who, with a timely cameo, leads the heroine of the story to see the error of her ways…and that’s all I’ll say about this story so as to encourage you to watch CHESS FEVER.   You will not be disappointed.  Flicker Alley will be releasing the movie in an upcoming Manufactured-On-Demand DVD.  Kimberly Bastin from Flicker Alley was kind enough to send me a screener copy and it looks terrific, so I must say “thank you” for that.  CHESS FEVER is presented on the DVD as the second feature to follow Abram Room’s BED AND SOFA (1927), a daring-for-its-time Russian film about a love triangle, which is also worth your time.

One last thing I must mention – as a fan of editing I was most impressed with that aspect of CHESS FEVER.  Compelled to read a bit about Russian cinema of the time I learned that the film’s director believed “The foundation of film art is editing” and one can see how he valued this particular film art based on the enjoyable sequences in this movie.  Pudovkin, who directed CHESS FEVER during a break from his first film, a documentary I actually watched in a film class years ago titled MECHANICS OF THE BRAIN, uses these “montages” masterfully throughout the film.  My favorite of these is the sequence during which the exasperated young woman throws her addicted boyfriend’s chess paraphernalia out of her window with each item falling into the hands of a different Russian who stops what he’s doing to play chess.  Just beautifully done.

Now, I extend a спасибо to Fritzi of Movies, Silently!  Not only is she hosting the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon, an event sponsored by Flicker Alley and for which this post is intended, but Fritzi also listed CHESS FEVER on her site as a possible blogging choice.  I would have never been introduced to this 20-minute gem without her.  If you too want to learn about Russian Cinema visit Movies, Silently to read the other entries in the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon. вы должны  AND there’s a contest!


13 thoughts

  1. Thanks so much for joining in! I’m so glad you enjoyed this little film, it’s an absolute gem and an ideal introduction to the quirky world of Russian cinema. I agree with you, the montage of our heroine tossing out the hero’s chess gadgets is the highlight of the film. Hilarious stuff. Wonderful review. 🙂

  2. I love how this blogathon is introducing me to so many films I’m sure I would never have come across. This one sounds like a gem, thank you for sharing 🙂

  3. Chess Fever is one of my favourite films of all time – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it! So many great gags. The part with the kittens, the blind man, Ivan Koval-Samborsky turning up as the policeman. It’s so great, I’m glad to see another fan! 🙂

  4. I love this image of him getting distracted by parquet floors. I think anyone who has ever been, lived with, and/or close to someone obsessed with a sport/game can relate! Thanks for sharing it..

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