Chess at the Movies, the Return
Black to play and win (too easy).
I saw that there is an excellent review today by Taylor Kingston at ChessCafe of Bob Basalla's Chess at the Movies. I wrote a review of it myself back in November 2005 and then posted a second time with Basalla's reply. I am glad to see it still getting press since it is an excellent book. And I think Kingston's review finds just the right tone, emphasizing the value of this volume for anyone who cares about movies and about chess while mentioning some of the minor issues inevitably to be found in a work of such large scope.
I thought I'd use this opportunity to mention one film that Basalla only touches upon lightly (and that at second hand): UNCOVERED (1994), where the position above (one of the few Basalla has not diagrammed) occurs in a painting and serves an important plot point. I saw it a few months back on DVD and thought it not bad (3 out of 5 stars perhaps). The film stars the lovely Kate Beckinsale as an art restorer who accidentally uncovers an inscription on an old painting of two chessplayers. The inscription and the story of the painting suggest a tangled murder and property plot going back generations, which might enhance the value of the painting and may impact its current ownership through inheritance. Aided by her adoptive father, she recruits the help of a handsome young chess hustler to decipher the position depicted on the board. For some reason they assume it must be White to move (perhaps because one figure in the painting appears to have just captured a White piece), and the supposed master says that White must play the insipid 1.Ra5?? (see diagram above, after White's move), when Black executes his threat of 1...g4+ (of course) and the Black Queen goes on a rampage, picking up White pieces left and right. In the film, each capture by the Queen predicts a murder and the chess hustler's analysis of the position becomes predictive of who will next fall victim to the mysterious killer.
As a student of gothic and mystery conventions (and of the typical inheritance plot at the heart of most gothic tales), I found UNCOVERED rather amusing if frequently disappointing. The film might be described as "The DaVinci Code" meets "Four Weddings and a Funeral," and the conflicting mix of gothic and comic at its heart seemed a structural problem to me. It has a frequently light tone and revolves around the lives of four people who form something of a constructed family (as frequently occurs in European comedies), and there is quite a bit of romance in the film (whose title may also refer to Ms. Beckinsale's frequent state of undress). But the dark undercurrents of the gothic property dispute and the murder-mystery story-line keep intruding until we get the ultimate confusion of the two at the film's climax when the seemingly friendly murderer is revealed.
I thought that the basic plot of the film was intriguing, though, and it made me interested in the novel The Flanders Panel upon which it is based (and which has been frequently recommended by a friend). As it is usually the case, I predict that the book will be better....