The Twelve Chairs — based on a 1928 Russian novel — had seen service quite a few times when Mel Brooks made his version of it in 1970, the most famous being the 1945 Fred Allen film It’s in the Bag. Oddly, the Brooks version is a lot tamer than the Fred Allen version (one of the oddest films of the 1940s), and, in fact, is probably the closest Brooks ever came to making a “normal” film. That may also be why it’s largely ignored today — sandwiched between the classic The Producers and the brazenly outrageous Blazing Saddles.
“Normal” is a relative term, of course, but here Brooks attempts to tell a story in a more or less traditional manner — and he generally succeeds (his tendency to goose the humor with fast motion to one side). The story is serviceable farce material — a search for a set of dining room chairs, one of which contains a fortune in jewels. The pace is frenetic, befitting the material, and the playing of the great Ron Moody is dead on, even if Dom DeLuise doing his best Phil Silvers impression wears a little thin on occasion. The odd-couple friendship between Moody and Frank Langella works surprisingly well, but doesn’t equal the Zero Mostel-Gene Wilder pairing of The Producers. Yet it gives the film a heart that’s lacking in most of Brooks’ work.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke