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The Chess Player (1927)

Le joueur d'échecs (original title)
In 1776, an inventor conceals a Polish nobleman in his chess-playing automaton, a machine whose fame leads it to the court of the Russian empress.

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Chess Player (1938)
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A toymaker in Poland specializes in building lifesize mechanical men. He builds a chess-playing "automaton" to hide a pretty young Polish activist who is being hunted by occupying Russian forces.

Director: Jean Dréville
Stars: Françoise Rosay, Conrad Veidt, Bernard Lancret
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Charles Dullin ...
Édith Jéhanne ...
Camille Bert ...
...
Marcelle Charles Dullin ...
Catherine II (as Marcelle Charles)
Jackie Monnier ...
Wanda (as Jacky Monnier)
Armand Bernard ...
Roubenko
...
Olga
Pierre Hot ...
Jaime Devesa ...
Prince Orloff
Fridette Fatton ...
Pola
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In 1776, an inventor conceals a Polish nobleman in his chess-playing automaton, a machine whose fame leads it to the court of the Russian empress.

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Drama | Fantasy

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17 May 1930 (USA)  »

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The Chess Player  »

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1.33 : 1
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Dull silent epic with some standout moments
16 August 2003 | by (Saint Paul, MN) – See all my reviews

Divided into two parts, the first half is okay, if generally unremarkable. It concerns a group of Polish people rebelling against the Russians, who are dominating them. The second half is mostly painful to sit through. The leader of the Polish rebels, Boleslas (Pierre Blanchar), is disguised as an undefeatable robotic chess player, designed by Baron von Kempelen (Charles Dullin), who is famous for his automatons. When the automaton faces the Empress of Russia, Catherine II, she cheats to see what her opponent will do. He responds by swiping the pieces off the chess board. The Empress finds it amusing, but orders the automaton to be shot. The film is way overlong (imdb lists under 90 minutes, but the Milestone DVD runs 139), and the story and themes are convoluted. Like a lot of overambitious silent films, its far too many characters are easy to confuse. I was quite bored through the film. There were several great moments, though. The battle scenes in the first half are exceptional. Bernard uses some sort of handheld camera to make it seem like the viewer is in the battle. It's a common technique nowadays, but I can't recall seeing it earlier than 1927. This has to be at least one of the first times when this was done. The cinematography is generally good, and often great, especially in the first half. Although the second half is hard to sit through, there is an extended sequence where one character is caught in the middle of a group of Baron von Kempelen's automaton soldiers. I didn't even really know who this character was exactly, but it was a neat scene.


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