The Twelve Chairs (1970 film)

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The Twelve Chairs
DVD cover art
Directed by Mel Brooks
Produced by Michael Hertzberg
Ron Gilbert
Written by Mel Brooks
Doris Mudie (English translation)
Based on The Twelve Chairs 
by Ilf and Petrov
Starring Frank Langella
Dom DeLuise
Ron Moody
Music by John Morris
Cinematography Djordje Nikolic
Edited by Alan Heim
Distributed by Universal Marion Corporation
Release dates
  • October 28, 1970 (1970-10-28)
Running time
94 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Twelve Chairs is a 1970 American comedy film directed by Mel Brooks, starring Frank Langella, Ron Moody and Dom DeLuise. The screenplay was written by Brooks. The film was one of at least 18 film adaptations of the Russian 1928 novel The Twelve Chairs by Ilf and Petrov.


In the Soviet Union in 1927, Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody), an impoverished aristocrat from Imperial Russia, is summoned, along with the village priest, to the deathbed of his mother-in-law. She reveals before dying that a fortune in jewels had been hidden from the Bolsheviks by being sewn into the seat cushion of one of the twelve chairs from the family's dining room set. After hearing the dying woman's Confession, the Russian Orthodox priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise), who has arrived to give the Last Rites, decides to abandon the Church and attempt to steal the treasure. Shortly thereafter, a homeless con-artist, Ostap Bender (Frank Langella), meets the dispossessed nobleman and manipulates his way into a partnership in his search for the family riches.

The chairs, along with all other private property, had been expropriated by the State after the Russian Revolution. Vorobyaninov and Bender set off together to locate the chairs and recover the fortune, but are stymied by a series of false leads and other trying events. They find that the chairs have been split up and sold individually. Therefore, their hunt requires a great deal of travel to track down and open up each piece of the set in order to eliminate it as a possible location of the booty. As they progress, they meet comrades from every walk of life in Soviet Russian society, transforming the film into a satirical sendup of failing Communism.

By posing as the official in charge of the Department of Chairs, Bender tricks Father Fyodor into a wild goose chase to recover a similar set of eleven chairs in the possession of an engineer in a remote province in Siberia. Father Fyodor makes the long journey to learn that the engineer has been reassigned to a post on the Black Sea. Fyodor proceeds to the Black Sea and obtains the counterfeit chairs (on the condition that the engineer and his wife never see him again). He finds that none of the chairs have the jewels. Later, he catches up with Vorobyaninov and Bender after they have retrieved one chair from a circus, and while being chased by them frantically climbs with the chair straight up the side of a mountain. After finding out that this chair doesn't contain the jewels, he finds that he is unable to get down again without help. Vorobyaninov and Bender leave him to his fate.

After traveling many miles and perpetrating numerous cons to pay for the lengthy enterprise, the two men return to Moscow where they discover the last chair; because the others contained no hidden treasure, this one must contain it all. It is located in a Palace of Culture, which is inconvenient due to the presence of so many witnesses. Vorobyaninov and Bender return after closing time, entering through a window Bender secretly had unlocked earlier.

At the moment of discovery, Bender carefully and quietly opens the chair cushion with his knife, but their hopes are dashed as it is found to be completely empty. Vorobyaninov is stunned and angry, but Bender laughs at the absurdity of the situation. A watchman finds them, and Vorobyaninov demands to know what happened to the jewels. "Look around you," the watchman answers, explaining that the jewels were used to finance construction of the grand building in which they stand. Driven into a sudden rage, Vorobyaninov smashes the chair to pieces and assaults the officer whom the watchman has summoned. After admonishing him for hitting a policeman, Bender leads the way and they escape into the night.

At the end of his patience, demoralized, and bankrupted, Bender proposes that he and Vorobyaninov go their separate ways. In a desperate attempt to keep Bender from leaving, Vorobyaninov flings the remains of the last chair into the air, and collapses to the ground feigning an epileptic seizure; this is an act they had previously rehearsed as part of a con. Bender calls for the crowd's attention and begs the passers-by to give generously to this sad and stricken man. Using simple gestures without uttering a word, the two men cement their partnership in crime.



Frank Langella won the NBR (National Board of Review) award for Best Supporting Actor. Mel Brooks was nominated for the WGA (Writers Guild of America) for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.

Behind the scenes[edit]

This film featured the screen debut of Frank Langella, who had previously been a stage actor. It also saw the first of many collaborations between Brooks and Dom DeLuise: they both worked on many of Brooks' films during the 1970s and 80s. Principal filming was done in Yugoslavia.

External links[edit]