CIPC #193: The black room

After amusing ourselves with some light-weight television series and some comedies, we now turn to more serious matters once again. The serious matter at hand is a 1935 film Boris Karloff  in the double role of twin brothers Gregor and Anton de Berghman. They are members of an old noble family, and the subjects of a prophecy that foretells that when twins will be born in the family again, one of them will murder the other in the eponymical black room, a room in the old family castle that, because of this prophecy, has been walled off. Gregor rules over the local village, his brother Anton has recently come back at the request of his brother.

Let me start this post by stressing that this is a really good movie. The acting is great, the cinematography superb, and the story, though very classic and devoid of great surprises, is well-crafted. Another big boon is that it doesn’t need two and a half hours to make its point: in a little over an hour, the whole thing is over — not a minute too long, not a minute too short.

But we have seen before that a movie being great does not mean the chess it shows is great, or indeed even reasonable. The picture above, while rather moody, is useless for recognising the position. Luckily, we get a much closer look at the position. It is very brief, at the beginning of a shot which immediately pans back to the actors, but it is enough to get a more or less decent reconstruction.1

I think that, in the main, this reconstruction is correct, although some details may very well be wrong. Of course, in the main, this reconstruction is also utterly bonkers. There has been the highly implausible massacre of pawns that is seen very often in movies, for some reasons. White has largely neglected his development. Black has developed his pieces, but to apparently random places on the board with no regard for coherence, as if he knows his opponent won’t do anything anyway.

This leads us to an interesting possibility that the movie is entirely silent on. Gregor de Berghman is portrayed as evil and short-tempered. I wonder whether this is not simply an externalisation of his frustration at the lack of proper opposition on the chess board. The people that keep on disappearing are probably those that came up with these horrible atrocities.

Realism: 2/5 The position is not impossible, so that’s already one point.2 Most of the white pieces, though admittedly undeveloped, are on logical places, so that’s another point. The thing taken as a whole is ridiculous, so that’s no more points.

Probable winner: This seems to be the black room, here. He is so far ahead in development and white’s king is so exposed that his victory is virtually certain.

1. [Construct your own decent diagrams here.]
2. [Man, my standards have gotten low.]