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20th Century Fox presents
The Twelve Chairs (1970)

"We need thirty rubles to make our dreams come true."
- Bender (Frank Langella)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 14, 2006

Stars: Ron Moody, Frank Langella, Dom DeLuise, Mel Brooks
Director: Mel Brooks

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:33m:27s
Release Date: April 04, 2006
UPC: 024543167495
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

First, let me confess to a sentimental weakness for The Twelve Chairs, a staple of my childhood. Its annual screening at the sleepaway camp where I spent my summers as a kid was more fun than the Fourth of July, and we looked forward to it with a fervor otherwise reserved for pennant races and color war. It's far from perfect, but it is a personal favorite.

This isn't Mel Brooks' most beloved or most hilarious movie, but in many respects it's his most endearing, his most sentimental. That's not to say that it doesn't have its share of loud and stupid humor, though, for it is still a Mel Brooks movie, after all. The story is set shortly after the ten days that shook the world, and the joke is on the Bolsheviks—despite the maxims of the party, human nature has everyone here thinking about such capitalist and bourgeois things as money and sex, mostly money. Ron Moody plays Voribyaninov, a former aristocrat brought low by the Revolution, who receives news both promising and horrifying from his mother-in-law on her deathbed: before the Communists came, she sewed the family jewels, millions of rubles' worth of diamonds and rubies and emeralds, into one of the family's dining room chairs. And so the chase is on, for the old woman has also shared the news in a final confession with the local priest, Father Fyodor, who is only too happy to trade in his vestments to find the gold in them thar Urals.

Voribyaninov is hopeless, though he soon teams up with the dashing young Ostap Bender, a grifter who hears the older man's story and wants to get a piece of the action for himself. Bender is played by Frank Langella, and much of the movie is a road buddy picture of sorts, featuring him and Moody—they're both gifted actors, but it doesn't seem like either is a natural comedian. Brooks was never one for subtlety, either, so there are frequent moments when his direction seems to have been: Louder! He's supplied them with enough punch lines and comic situations, though, to sustain the story, and the two vagabonds are sometimes genuinely moving, as their journey takes them across the U.S.S.R., to Leningrad and Moscow, Siberia to Irkutsk.

The real comic guns blaze in two supporting roles instead. First is Brooks himself, seen briefly as Tikon, Voribyaninov's manservant before the Revolution—he's a groveling, abused servant nostalgic for the old days, but easily waylaid by a snifter of strong vodka, and Tikon is a riot, like something off of one of the Brooks/Reiner comedy albums. He only gets about ten minutes of screen time, though, so best in show here is Dom DeLuise as Father Fyodor. DeLuise has the kind of unrestrained comic abandon that, in the best sense, seems to come from a different era—he's as close as we'll get these days to vaudeville or burlesque, and his very presence on screen, as the greedy manic man of the cloth ready to trade it all in for fists full of rubles, is enough to make you smile. He's on the take, and he doesn't much care who knows it, as long as there's a pot of gold at the end of his Russian rainbow—as Father Fyodor himself would say, Ya ya ya! Ya ya ya!

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This looks like the same transfer as the previous DVD release of this title, pretty badly faded, though with only a modest amount of scratching.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Some buzz persists on both the mono and stereo tracks, but you won't miss a punchline.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, Silent Movie, To Be Or Not To Be, Young Frankenstein
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Only trailers for other titles in The Mel Brooks Collection.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An uneven though occasionally deeply hilarious fable of the chase for the almighty ruble, demonstrating that human nature persists in all its greedy, lustful glory, no matter what the Bolsheviks may have told us.


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