CIPC #125: The invisible ghost

Before Ben Kingsley, before Michael Ironside, before Lee Van Cleef even, the guy you went to if you wanted a memorable villain for your Hollywood movie was Bela Lugosi. Born in Hungary as Béla Blaskó, he is nowadays mainly remembered as the original Dracula, but he played in dozens of other movies, usually as the bad guy and more than once together with that other icon of thirties horror, Boris Karloff. In fact, I briefly talked about him before in this post about The black cat. In today’s subject, The invisible ghost, Lugosi plays a mister Kessler who has lost his wife in an accident and is now haunted by her ghost. Except that his wife is not really dead and that she is haunting him pretty much by accident. Where the ‘invisible’ in the title comes from remains unexplained.

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CIPC #124: The blob

We will stay in the wonderful, whimsical world of the creature feature for just a while longer, but in contrast to last week’s Creature from the haunted sea, which was more or less forgotten as soon as it was released, The blob, which features a young Steve McQueen in the main role, has grown into a bit of a cult classic over the years. And it must ba said that it is a far better movie than would be suggested by the incredibly cheesy premise:1 an alien, gelatinous blob crashes on Earth and starts consuming everything in its path. In movies likes this, usually the police gets involved at some point, but they, are of course, sceptical and have to be convinced of the existence of the eponymous monster. But there are shenanigans going on in the police department! The lieutenant opens a drawer from one of his men’s desks and finds a chess board:

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CIPC #123: Creature from the haunted sea

Long before Michael Bay and Steven Seagal were the schlockmeisters par excellence of the film world, way, way back in the swinging sixties, the b-movie scene was dominated by the incomparable Roger Corman. From the fifties to the seventies he directed a staggering amount of low-budget movies, reaching in 1957 alone an astonishing 9 movies. And with titles like Attack of the giant leeches, X: The man with the X-ray eyes, or The saga of the Viking women and their voyage to the waters of the great sea serpent you just know they’re going to be great! Of course, in such a tremendous amount of film, there is bound to be some chess scene somewhere and, indeed, shortly after the beginning of Creature from the haunted sea, one of his lesser known creature features, we can see a female spy in a shady bar playing chess against herself:

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CIPC #122: meetup.com commercial

Apparently, there are people out there. As if that thought wasn’t scary enough, those people sometimes want to meet each other. This is precisely what the founders of meetup.com realised when they launched their site all the way back in 2002. Of course, the people that are already out socialising are not a very interesting audience for meetup.com, so when they decided to do some advertising they naturally wanted to focus on shut-ins and weirdos. In order to reach this audience, they used the two quintessential symbols of the committed sociophobe: chess and cats. In fact, the ad is basically a guy1 trying to play chess against his cat:2

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CIPC #121: Zorro S1 E1, Welcome to Monterey

Here we are again. Like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime, I always seem to circle back to Zorro.1 This time, we follow our hero as he travels to Monterey with his servant Bernardo to find out whether an important but unspecified business run by a mister Verduga is worth putting money in. Pretty much immediately on arrival, he is robbed but, as he did not bring the 17.000 pesos expected of him, the robbers leave empty-handed. It turns out that many people before him suffered the same fate and in order to investigate these robberies, he prolongs his stay in the local tavern.2 This is very good, because people play chess there! In fact, we see the first game even before the robbers.

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CIPC #120: The lodger: A story of the London fog

One might easily forget it, but the great Alfred Hitchcock started his career all the way back in the twenties, more than thirty years before Psycho, making silent movies because talkies weren’t a thing yet. One of these, the one that put him firmly on the map, in fact, was The lodger: A story of the London fog. Its plot is heavily inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, London at the end of the nineteenth century: a serial killer goes around London, butchering a young, blond woman every Tuesday. After these facts have been established, we are introduced to Daisy Bunting, a young woman who works as a model for a local fashion show. Despite her blond hair, she is not too worried about the serial killer and cheerfully reaches home. Her parents take in a new lodger and then, as the title cards put it, “one evening, a few days later, the lodger made himself agreeable.” Apparently, this means he plays a game of chess with Daisy.1
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CIPC #119: Translucid Vol.2

Translucid is an artsy take on the superhero genre published by BOOM! studios in six instalments between April and September 2014. I must admit that I haven’t read it, but the reviews seem to be generally favourable and the artwork seems to be above par. It’s focus is on a supposed supervillain with a horse’s head and his nemesis without a horse’s head. It is perhaps – well, definitely – not the most famous American comic, but at first glance it seems no worse than its competition. And it has chess in it! So that makes everything okay, right? Right? It does not showcase the most ridiculous, idiotic, pathetic excuse for a chess position that has ever blighted the Earth with its existence, right? Please say it doesn’t? Pretty please?

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CIPC #118: Barbie in the 12 dancing princesses

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any single thing capable of making a fortune must be in want of a movie script to be made into. It is, then, not a great surprise that there exist Barbie movies – but there’s twenty-three of the bastards! That’s (at the time of writing) more than the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings franchises combined! Yet, I’ve never even heard of a single one of them reaching movie theatres. However, it has gotten to my attention that chess makes an appearance in one of them; of course, I tracked it down. It is called Barbie in the 12 dancing princesses, but does not actually feature any character named Barbie or royal cannibalism. The chess scene happens quite early, when the plot, or what there is of it, is only just starting to unfold. Genevieve, one of the twelve princesses and the closest thing the movie has to a protagonist, is playing against her father, the king.

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CIPC #117: House S3 E23, The Jerk

I have remarked before that, as the number of episodes in a given television series tends to infinity, the probability of chess appearing at least once, perhaps even in an important role, approaches one. Therefore, since House ran for eight seasons, totalling a shit-ton of episodes – as it is usually expressed in the highly specialised lingo of the experienced chess-in-popular-culture blogger – it stands to reason that there will be some chess I can talk about somewhere, and that is precisely what I’m going to do today. Let’s first get the formalities out of the way: House is an American television series about – as the title suggests – the maverick medical doctor House,1 played by Hugh Laurie of Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster fame. He is a genius, which apparently means he’s good at diagnosing obscure illnesses,2 and a huge jerk. In the penultimate episode of the third season, he meets his match: teenager Nate is equally genius and equally jerkish.

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CIPC #116: Kelly, The plateau of chess

Unless you are a connoisseur of the graphic arts, the name Leon Kelly probably doesn’t mean much to you, so a short biographic note seems in order. Kelly was a twentieth century painter from the USA whose works are on display in such museums as the Metropolitan, the Whitney, and the MoMa – but he has nevertheless produced some pretty good stuff. According to wikipedia, he was active in cubism at some point, as well as in abstract art and realism. Today, however, we are featuring a work from his surrealistic period called The plateau of chess. But that becomes immediately clear once you see it:

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