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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 5/1/00



The Twelve Chairs
1970 (2000) - CBS FOX/Gaumont (Image)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

The Twelve Chairs Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/D

Specs and Features

94 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Snapper case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 1.0 mono), subtitles: English


"I hate people I don’t like."

Former Russian aristocrat Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) is summoned by his mother-in-law on her deathbed and told that her treasure of jewels was sewn up into the seat of a dining room chair, part of a set crafted by Hamms of London. The time is post-revolution USSR, and it’s a new people’s republic. The set held twelve, and at this point (now that his home is basically a retirement community and all the furniture was seized by the government to occupy museums all across the country) the chairs could be anywhere. Vorobyaninov needs the jewels to start his life over again (it pretty much sucks going from haughty aristocrat to a lowly office clerk in the Bureau of Licenses and Records), but he’s got some competitors. There’s Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise), who abused his position as a priest to gain the knowledge when the lady cleansed her soul and told him about the jewels. And there’s Ostap Bender (Frank Langella), a con-man who joins up with Vorobyaninov willing to split the money in half in exchange for not turning him in to the "people". Fueled by greed (and with time being no friend), the three men chase the chairs all across the frozen landscape of Russia and back again, only to find that the old adage is true: "Hope for the best, expect the worst."

The Twelve Chairs isn’t your typical Mel Brooks film, and that’s not a bad thing by any stretch. It’s definitely got his signature moments, like when Vorobyaninov forgives his dying mother-in-law and gently cups her face in his hands to kiss her forehead... forgetting that he has a ink stamp in his hand (he thus sends her out "Cancelled on August 17, 1927"). That’s funny stuff and very Brooksian. But the great thing is that the film isn’t always funny. There are actually some deep, heart-felt moments in here that just make it a much more well rounded film. And I think every one of his fans out there (let alone fans of any sort of comedy) will find this to be both engaging and entertaining. Don’t worry, the film itself is a spoof of a work of Russian Literature (so he didn’t stray too far from his spoofing path), and is based on the novel of the same name by Ilf and Petrov. As is the norm for Brooks' cannon, the acting is top shelf, with DeLuise stealing the show and Mel Brooks making his usual cameo as Tikon, a former servant of Vorobyaninov, who injects enough silly humor to satisfy any Brooks fan.

On disc, this film looks great, despite its non-anamorphic presentation. You’d never guess it was made in 1970. There are some NTSC problems like edging and moiré (especially evident in the opening credits and on lace drapes) and a few moments of muddy grain (never minding the horrid looking CBS/Fox logo as the disc boots up). But for all its minor faults, I have to say that picture is very crisp and the colors are true. Audio-wise, you get a Dolby Digital mono track that sounds as good as you would expect for mono. It does its job, and there really is no need for any more.

The only extra is a trailer that looks rather beat up, but what are you gonna do? I wouldn’t have minded a commentary, only because the film is so rarely seen. And it would be interesting to hear what Mel had to say about it 30 years later. Then again, Brooks has never really been too engaging as a commentator on laserdisc and DVD, so it's not a big disappointment.

Mel Brooks knows his comedy and with this one, he shows that he knows how to pull your heartstrings as well. If you haven’t seen The Twelve Chairs, you’re missing out on a well-made and entertaining movie. This is a disc that absolutely belongs in everyone’s collection of Brooks on DVD.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com



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