Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1970. Crossbow Productions, The Twelve Chairs Company, Twelve Chairs Company. Screenplay by Mel Brooks, based on the novel by Ilya Ilf, Yevgeni Petrov and the translation Diamonds To Sit On by Elizabeth Hill, Doris Mudie. Cinematography by Djordje Nikolic. Produced by Michael Hertzberg. Music by John Morris. Production Design by Mile Nickolic. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Alan Heim.
Mel Brooks follows his breakthrough success The Producers with a less popular though still amiable comedy. In the early years of the Soviet Union, a fallen aristocrat (Ron Moody) learns from his mother on her deathbed that she hid a pile of family jewels in one of twelve dining chairs that they left behind in the mansion that has now become an old age home. Voyaging there immediately after her death, Moody is devastated to learn that the chairs have been sent away, then on his journey to find them is forced to get into a partnership with a handsome con artist (Frank Langella) who has learned his secret. The two of them are now on a chase across Russia to outwit the greedy priest (Dom DeLuise) who eavesdropped on the mother’s confession, their search taking them to museums, travelling theatres and workers’ halls in their madcap effort to locate the treasure. Bright and bouncy and featuring a wonderful cast, not to mention a few undeniably hilarious moments, the film mainly suffers for being caught between two interpretations of comedy. On the one hand, Brooks wants to put across an adorable, Maupassant-esque tale about life’s unfair twists and turns culminating in an ending that is a sly but not subtle criticism of the practicality of communism, but on the other hand he hires actors like Deluise to do the schticky acting that Brooks’ later parodies would benefit far more from. Filmed entirely in Yugoslavia, it’s not worthless despite only being partially successful, and the colourful cinematography is a treat.