Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brooksfest 2011: Hope For the Best...Expect the Worst

As the temperatures improve and the days creep ever closer to summer vacation for students and teachers (7 weeks for me, but who's counting?) I thought to myself, what better time to have a laugh than now?  So here it is, this year's annual Brooksfest (my personal tribute and marathon to all things Mel Brooks) and not a moment too soon.  This week marks a three day work week with an early release on the third, and then five days off for Spring Break, so it is a perfect week for watching a lot of movies in a short amount of time.  Why a short amount of time, you ask?  Well, because on Thursday I'm going to head up to Columbus to stay with a friend while I'm off (he needs some company) and I don't think he'd appreciate a Mel Brooks marathon.  Anyway, shall we get to the films?  Yes, I think we shall.  Today I want to look into one of the first films that Mel Brooks ever made...immediately after he made The Producers, which itself was an underground hit.  This film was an adaptation of a Russian satirical novel, an ambitious project given America's feelings toward the Soviet Union at the time, and gave the audience a humorous glimpse into the lives of those in communist Russia (with heavy doses of slapstick of course).  I had never seen the film before buying the 20th Century Fox/MGM Mel Brooks collection, but after seeing it I definitely count it as one of my favorites.  So let's join in on the hunt and enjoy the hilarity that is The Twelve Chairs.

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 passing, 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. Although Ostap is an unwelcome addition at first, it is mostly through his cunning, intellect and charm that the pair manages to get anywhere while keeping ahead of the apostate priest who is now their competition.  The stage is then set for a rollicking adventure that takes the trio across the entire continent as they try to find each of the separated chairs.

This is the kind of film that is easy to lose amongst Brooks' more famous and recognized comedies, particularly the spoofs, mainly because the subject matter is so unfamiliar to most moviewatchers.  The spoofs satarize aspects of films that people remember, and Chairs deals with a country and a group of people that most Americans couldn't give two figs about.  I myself wasn't all that interested in seeing a movie about twelve chairs...but once I let myself get into it, I found myself laughing out loud at many of the scenes (particularly at Dom DeLuise's lines and actions..."I NEED those CHAIRS!!!"...priceless).  Ron Moody and Frank Langella are also wonderful and match each other beautifully.  Moody is sniveling and smarmy while Langella is smooth and savvy, they are a perfect pair for comedy.  In the end, you find yourself rooting for them...despite how despicable they are.  If you've never seen The Twelve Chairs, you really should.  It is an incredibly humorous movie that deserves to be remembered much more fondly amongst Brooks' movies.

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