A ‘double take’ – Twelve chairs

with the day before – TWELVE CHAIRS by Leonid Gaidar

Soviet Union in the 1920s. Ippolit (Ron Moody), an impoverished aristocrat, now village bureaucrat, is summoned to the deathbed of his mother-in-law. She reveals that a fortune in jewels had been hidden from the Bolsheviks in the cushion of one of the twelve chairs from the family’s dining room set.

After hearing this, the priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise) decides to abandon the Church and steal the treasure for himself. A homeless con-artist, Ostap Bender (Frank Langella), meets the nobleman and manipulates his way into a partnership in his search for the riches. Roaming over all of Russia in their quest to recover the chairs, they have a series of comic adventures… descending into madness.

Mel Brooks

knew this material to be difficult. In no less than eighteen other takes on the story, with actors like Jack Carradine, Sharon Tate and Orson Welles tried their luck. His own cast was a (happy) accident. The crew had to be placated with vodka to not strike against this defamation of their fictional comrades. And somehow even his critics took him seriously. His biggest flop commercially is to him one of his proudest and most personal feats. Shot in rural Yugoslavia, with a crew used to Communist arthouse, the openly treasonous political attitude raised eyebrows East and West. The apparatschiks create havoc, injure bystanders and destroy resources. Grandiosity and broad farce move in lockstep.

To say it with Brooks –

it’s all about money or love. Hope for the best, expect the worst. Join us for a crazy diamond to sit in on.

Introduction and discussion: Olivier Stockman

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