Mel Brooks is one of America’s greatest comedians and the man who probably best understood comedy since the silent film era. He became famous with farces and parodies, and he is one of the few people who won the famous EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). The 1970s were Brooks’ most fruitful period, and after achieving huge success in the second half of the 1960s with a parody of the musical “The Producers”, his next film project was a screen adaptation of the 1928 Russian novel by Ilya Petrov. Although “12 Chairs” today may not have the same status as some of his most famous and well-known films from that era, such as “Hot Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein”, this comedy is an exemplary example of his creativity and his humor.
Brooks’ comedies exude physical humor, gags that date back to the silent film era, emphasis and an intentional lack of subtlety. He often likes to play with words, profanities that for him even exceed the limit of profanity and hit the target brilliantly, breaking the taboos of the time and making fun of everything that comes his way. In his films, he makes fun of the standard conventions of American cinema and deliberately violates them (the best example is definitely the masterpiece “Blazzing Saddles”), and in a similar way, in “The Twelve Chairs” he decided to play with a popular historical film of the time. As a template, he took a classic satirical Russian novel set in the early 1920s in the Soviet Union, where the civil war had just ended. On her deathbed, the mother of yesterday’s aristocrat will confess to her son that she sewed the family treasure into one of the 12 chairs in their former house. The greedy son of Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) will go in search of chairs along the entire Soviet Union.
By force of chance, his ally in this search will be the young fraudster Ostap Bender (Frank Langella, who was somehow strange to see as a young man), a man also of aristocratic origin who now survives by small frauds and thanks to street wisdom. Their competitor in the search for the treasure will be the priest Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) who will also learn about the treasure during the mother’s confession. He too will be blinded by wealth and he too will embark on a crazy, typical Brooks charming and silly adventure that could be classified as a classic example of a chase comedy.
It’s a film full of metaphors and brilliantly poking fun at human nature and the somewhat cynical idea of human greed that will blind almost anyone when given the chance. It is interesting that “The Twelve Chairs” was filmed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, since he did not really have the opportunity to shoot the film in the Soviet Union itself, and at its core it is a story about human greed and the corruption that hides in everyone. However, this film is not at the level of Brooks’ best films, although those who love his work will surely enjoy “12 Chairs”.