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TWELVE CHAIRS, THE (director/writer: Mel Brooks; screenwriter: from the novel by Ilya Ilf & Yevgeni Petrov; cinematographer: Djordje Nikolic; editor: Alan Heim; music: John Morris; cast: Mel Brooks (Tikon), Ron Moody (Ippolit Vorobyaninov), Frank Langella(Ostap Bender), Dom DeLuise (Father Fyodor), Andreas Voutsinas (Nikolai Sestrin), Vlada Petric (Sevitsky), David Lander (Engineer Bruns), Diana Coupland (Madame Bruns), Elaine Garreau (Claudia Ivanovna); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: GP; producer: Michael Hertzberg; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1970)
The premise was so good that I expected the frantic pic to be funnier and not so overwrought.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mel Brooks (“The Producers”/”Blazing Saddles”/”Young Frankenstein”)directs, writes and appears in his mean-spirited slapstick farce version of the 1928 Russian novel by Ilya Ilf & Yevgeni Petrov. It was filmed in Yugoslavia. There were several film versions of The Twelve Chairs, with the 1945 “In the Bag” Hollywood one with Fred Allen and the 1936 “Keep Your Seats Please” British version among the better ones (others include versions from Germany, Cuba and Argentina). Brooks provides a few hilarious madcap moments thanks to Dom DeLuise’s wacky over-the-top performance, but by the time the search for the valuable jewels winds down to the last chair the pic has run out of gas. The premise was so good that I expected the frantic pic to be funnier and not so overwrought.

In the Russia of 1927, the aging former count during the Tsarist days, Vorobyaninov, (Ron Moody), has been impoverished and works as a lowly license clerk under the new communist regime. His dying mother-in-law confesses on her deathbed to her son-in-law and the corrupt local Russian Orthodox priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) that to save her valuable diamonds and jewels from the 1917 BolshevikRevolution she sewed them in one of her twelve custom-made English dining chairs.

V. travels from his tiny village to Moscow, where his family mansion was before it was confiscated by the Soviets and turned into an old age home for women. There he meets his former moronic servant (Mel Brooks), now the caretaker for the home, who has come under the influence of smarty-pants street hustler Ostap Bender (Frank Langella). Before long Ostap learns about the jewels and forces a partnership to get the chairs with the dim-witted fallen nobleman, as they leave the drunken lackey behind after he tells them how the chairs were scattered around the country. Also trying to get the chairs is the greedy charlatan priest.

It turns out to be one long chase after the chairs that takes us from Moscow, Siberia and Yalta. The count and the young con artist encounter some chairs at a shipboard theater presentation for the play called The Rise and Fall of the Upper Classes; while the priest goes off on the wrong track thanks to Ostap’s trickery and goes to Siberia and Yalta, where he harasses an engineer and his wife to give him the chairs he mistakenly thinks contain the jewels.

Greed motivates all the pursuers of the jewels, which makes it hard to find their joyless chase that funny or any of them sympathetic characters. Though there were some witty amusing lines tossed in such as ‘I hate people I don’t like’ and ‘The hungrier you get, the tastier the meal,’ the film was only mildly amusing and largely disappointing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”