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BRAINWASHED (SCHACHNOVELLE, DIE)(director/writer: Gerd Oswald; screenwriters: Harold Medford/based on Stefan Zweig’s book “The Royal Game”; cinematographer: Gunther Senftleben; cast: Mario Adorf (Mirko Centrowic), Albert Bessler (Scientist), Claire Bloom (Irene Andreny), Rijk de Gooyer (Berger’s Secretary), Hansjörg Felmy (Hans Berger), Rudolf Forster (Hotel Manager), Alan Gifford (Mac Iver), Jan Hendriks (First Officer), Curt Jurgens (Werner von Basil), Dietmar Schoenherr (Rabbi), Albert Lieven (Hartmann), Hans Söhnker (Bishop Ambros), Wolfgang Wahl (Moonface); Runtime: 103; Allied Artists; 1960-West Ger.)
” …just passable entertainment…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a B-film, a psychological thriller from the 1942 novel by Stefan Zweig that runs out of thrills eventually and ends on a flat note; but, it had its moments of suspense. It tells the story of an Austrian nobleman-intellectual, Werner von Basil (Jurgens), who is held as a prisoner in his native Austria at the outset of WW11. The nobleman has helped Bishop Ambros (Söhnker) store the church’s treasured art collection in a hidden place and refuses to tell the Nazi conquerors where those valuable treasures can be found.

The story is told in flashback, as the freed but shaken nobleman is taken by his Eminence and safely placed aboard a boat heading for New York. The flashbacks intercut between his present voyage and the ordeal of his brainwashing at the hands of the Gestapo.

The flashbacks begin at a party as Werner meets the treacherously beautiful Austrian ballerina, Irene Andreny (Bloom), who is escorted by the new Third Reich minister of culture to Austria, Hans Berger (Felmy). That night Werner is arrested by the young Nazi, who pretends to be an intellectual and is determined to use his methods of brainwashing to get the information he needs out of Werner without resorting to physical torture. He locks him in a bare room, and allows no one to talk to him while he feeds him a daily diet of stale bread. It is a test of wills, to see who will give in first. If Berger fails, there is Hartmann (Lieven), his superior, who awaits with the old-fashioned torture methods.

Somehow, Werner steals a book on how the master’s play chess and even though he has never played the game before, he memorizes all the moves in that book as a means of keeping sane. After seven weeks go by, Werner still hasn’t cracked; and, Irene, fed up with her Nazi boyfriend splits with him and tries to add moral support to Werner in his effort to survive.

The scene on the boat brings back conflicting memories for Werner, as there is a pompous master chess champion (Mirko Centrowic) who reminds him of his former captors and is playing against a group of amateurs. Werner can’t help himself from entering the game, this being the first time in his life he has played chess; but, he, of course, beats the world champion.

The acting by everyone but Jurgens was horrid. The story made no great impression on me, but it was curious to watch how someone can handle isolation by concentrating on the intricacies of a game he doesn’t really understand. Overall, the film was just passable entertainment, nothing more.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”