by Arne Kaehler
5/13/2020 – We recently had a chess film quiz with stills from movies before the 60s. One of them was the German drama film Brainwashed (1960) by Gerd Oswald. Based on one of the most famous chess books ever written, "Die Schachnovelle" (The Royal Game) by Stefan Zweig, the film itself wasn't very popular. We took a closer look at the game featured in the film and also in the book, which was originally played by Alexander Alekhine against Efim Bogoljubov in 1922.

The ABC of Alekhine - 2nd Edition The ABC of Alekhine - 2nd Edition

The Alekhine is an often underrated defense that leads to strategically and tactically interesting positions in which the better player has good chances to win. Andrew Martin shows the basic ideas of this fascinating opening.


Brainwashed, a film based on Die Schachnovelle

Centowic (left) playing chess against von Basil (right)

The central character of the film Brainwashed, Werner von Basil (Curd Juergens), has been arrested for smuggling precious art treasures out of the country to hide from the national socialists, and has been imprisoned by the Secret State Police. Von Basil is held captive in a hotel room to confess his criminal activities. Officer Berger (Hans Joerg Felmy) is trying to force him to reveal secret information. 

After six weeks of imprisonment, von Basil pretends to be cooperative and manages to steal a book. Because the book only shows chess games, his disappointment is huge. As a last resort, to keep his sanity, von Basil starts reading it and uses pieces of bread as chess pieces to re-enact the games described in the book. Unfortunately, Berger discovers the stolen book and takes it away. Von Basil keeps on playing the games in his mind and shows signs of insanity.

Irene Adreny (Claire Bloom), who is Berger's lover, begs him to release von Basil from the struggles.

This is the middle part and main story of the film and seen as a flashback to understand who von Basil is.

The chess game

The chess game re-enactment takes place at the beginning of the film, where famous World Chess Champion Karl Centowic (Mario Adorf), is on the cruise S.S. Adria, travelling to an important chess tournament. He is willing to play against passengers, one of them being von Basil, who is on the same ship.

Chess Champion Centowic (right) asked by Mac Iver (left) to play chess

Von Basil is behaving nervous and unhinged, due to the recent occurrences, still in disbelief that he is free now. Walking around on the cruise ship he discovers passengers playing the chess game against the World Chess Champion.

He approaches the players and interrupts them before they can make a bad move. 

The original game was played by Alexander Alekhine and Efim Bogoljubov in 1922 at the Bad Pistyan Tournament in Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). This game was played in round fifteen, three rounds before the tournament was over. Both players had a chance to win the tournament with a decisive outcome. In the end, Bogoljubov triumphed, with 15/18 points, only half a point ahead Rudolf Spielmann and Alexander Alekhine. This was also Bogoljubov's first International tournament win. Alekhine and Bogoljubov only lost one game in the competition. Savielly Tartakower was the one who defeated them. He ended on place eight with only nine points though.


Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine

On this DVD GMs Rogozenco, Marin, Müller, and IM Reeh present outstanding games, stunning combinations and exemplary endgames by Alekhine. And they invite you to improve your knowledge with the help of video lectures, annotated games and interactive tests

In the last part of the film, Centowic is playing against von Basil, a game they agreed on after the draw, although von Basil didn't want to participate at first. We see another chess position, but not more than eight to ten moves have been played, so it doesn't have too much value to look into it. I don't want to give away the end of the film, because it is very well worth watching it.

Curd Juergens played in countless German-Austrian films and is probably most famous for his evil Bond villain role as Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). His performance in the Brainwashed film is quite memorable!

Hans Joerg Felmy and Mario Adorf also portray wonderful characters and are a joy to watch. The Swiss actor Adorf is the only actor who is alive today. He is 89 years old.



Arne Kaehler, a creative mind who is passionate about board games in general, was born in Hamburg and learned to play chess at a young age. By teaching chess to youth teams and creating chess-related videos on YouTube, Arne was able to expand this passion and has even created an online course for anyone who wants to learn how to play chess. Arne writes for the English and German news sites, but focuses mainly on content for the ChessBase media channels.


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