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Bed and Sofa / Chess Fever: Double Feature

When an out-of-towner moves in with a married couple, the outsider and the married woman find themselves attracted to each other. Acting on their impulses, the two at first shame the husband, but then the husband comes to accept the idea of sharing the house as a threesome, which gets even more complicated when the woman realizes she's pregnant and doesn't know who the father is. It could have been an Ernst Lubitsch film (heck, he did something like it with 1933's Design for Living), and the idea of multi-partner relationships has floated throughout cinema (be it Françios Truffaut's Jules and Jim or Andrew Fleming's Threesome), but the funny thing about 1927's Bed and Sofa is that it was made in Russia under the rule of Joseph Stalin. A silent picture, the film follows the events of this threesome as outsider Kolia (Nikolai Batalov) finds comfort in the family of Volodia (Vladamir Fogel) and Liuda (Lyudmila Semyonova). Like most films of this type, it's a melodrama with comic elements and it's all about the mores of love and modern living with an appropriate twist ending. As a silent picture, some might find it a bit slow-going, but there are smart touches throughout that make each of its leads empathetic, while director Abram Room has a strong visual eye and is skilled with parallel actions (the opening mimics the close; everyone in the house bathes while Room cuts to a cat licking itself, etc). And viewers from western cultures only familiar with the Soviet Union during the Cold War might think it's a small treat to see a Russian film of the early Soviet era that doesn't focus on collective farming or the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead, it's a loose an amusing little melodrama that does have a class consciousness but is never overwhelmed by it. Chess Fever (1925) also is included, a 27-minute silent comedy about romance and the chess-craze that swept the country at the time. Fogel returns as the hero of the piece, who's running into romantic problems because the woman he loves (Anna Zemtsova) can't stand the sport, while chess is virtually the sole thing that occupies his mind. Directed by Nikolai Shpikovsky and Vsevolod Pudovkin, it's a slight, engaging little film that manages to convey the same warmth and spirit of the best of the two-reelers. Image Entertainment presents both titles in a two-disc set, but since both films are silent, the first disc holds both features with English title cards, while the second disc has Russian title cards (scanning through the Russian version of Bed and Sofa, evidence suggests these may not be the original title cards, but ones from a later video revision). On Disc One is an informative commentary for Bed and Sofa by Julian Graffy, author of Bed and Sofa: A Film Companion, who explains both political ramifications of some of the film's minutiae. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

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