Imagine for a moment if Mel Brooks never went down the path of zany, wonderfully offensive, vulgarity filled parodies. Imagine if Mel Brooks ever understood control, restraint, and a sense of calmness. Imagine he shot a film in Russia. That’s Twelve Chairs.
Those changes from Brooks’ usual style are in no way a fault, just a way to ease expectations. Set in Russia, the film concerns us with Ippolit Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody) who learns his mother-in-law stashed a fortune of jewels and gold inside one of 12 chairs, now spread across the country.
This begins a frenzied chase between Ippolit, his deceitful partner Ostap (Frank Langella), and the only other man who knows of the chairs, a corrupt priest named Fydor (Dom DeLuise).
Fydor is the true Mel Brooks character in this film, more or less because he is played by DeLuise. He injects the character with his uncanny ability to overact everything, yet completely sell it for a laugh. Stuck on the top of a cliff with seemingly no way down, DeLuise begs and pleads for help in a performance that would get him kicked off most films, yet fits in here.
It is easy to give DeLuise credit, but Moody captures a sense of growing rage as the chairs are whittled down to only a few left. His increasing frustration is consistently evident, and Brooks’ sticks with the close-ups as the discovery of the chairs continues to leave his quest empty.
Brooks’ uses a variety of tricks to illicit laughs, from the signs inside the Bureau of Housing, to fast motion as DeLuise and Moody scamper around over the first chair (complete with the high-pitched dialogue that sells the admittedly cheap effect). He even turns Moody into a blathering, twitching idiot, faking an overdone epileptic seizure for money that remains one of the best gags in the movie.
Twelve Chairs is likely more memorable for simply being an early work of a famed director, as you can see his style forming in each frame, leading up to the unforgettable Blazing Saddles four years later. It feels more like a testing ground for what it is come, and containing Brooks’ first cameo in one of this own films, a tradition from here on out. One for the fans.
Fox delivers a spectacular hi-def effort for this mild gem. The AVC encode handles a complex grain structure with ease, keeping the film’s lush color and detail fully intact. Sharpness is wonderful, preserving environments cleanly and without fault. The first long shot of the house is just a primer for the ability of this disc to preserve the photography.
While facial detail is at a premium (although some close-ups perform admirably), backgrounds are wonderful. Look at the concrete slabs behind Brooks’ at 12:22, retaining a flawless texture that is distinct and complex. Ostap’s undershirt holds a visible stitching pattern, even in mid-range shots.
Some light ringing is a distraction, although a mild one. Black levels are bold, and the bright contrast brings the naturally saturated colors out. Source damage is minimal, reserved for the usual specks and dirt that disappear as quickly as they appear. This is a stunner.
Both an uncompressed DTS-HD mix and compressed mono audio choice exist, and in many ways, the mono is preferred. Neither sounds great, especially in regards to the music, which is so strained and rough, it can be hard to distinguish anything. In mono, it is hardly as forceful as the DTS-HD effort, which blares it through the fronts with a bit of surround bleed.
Imagine someone scratching their nails on a chalkboard. That’s the mono mix. Now imagine someone doing the same thing, only in a tunnel and a megaphone amplifying that sound. That’s the DTS-HD track.
It is hardly worth the mild use of the surrounds, such as the train clicking on the rails ambiance as DeLuise is seen preparing for his departure. Dialogue is hollow with limited distortion either way. It’s a shame the audio has seemingly been ignored in terms of preservation (or restoration) compared to the video.
The only bonus features are trailers.