Written for my Frank Langella Celebration! ❤
I love dark comedies. Not all of them, mind, but enough of them to consider myself a fan. And fortunately for this celebration, Frank Langella just happens to star in one of my absolute favorites, The Twelve Chairs, by Mel Brooks from 1970.
Frank Langella was essentially a nobody before 1970. His first major role was in Diary of a Mad Housewife, also in 1970, and which I have no intention of ever watching simply because I don't care. But 1970 was a very kind year to him and sort of sky-rocketed him towards the potentiality of fame.
The Twelve Chairs is a satirical look at communist Russia in 1927 and follows the story of Ippolit Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody), one of the deposed Russian aristocracy. His step-mother, at the very end of her life, tells him that she hid her prized jewels in one of the chairs in her magnificent dining room suite, sending Ippolit on a chaotic journey to try and recover the gems. Along the way he joins forces, albeit reluctantly, with a con man named Ostep Bender (Frank Langella) who won't take no for an answer, and together they must battle against the wily greed of Ippolit's local priest, Father Fyodor (Dom Deluise), who heard the step-mother's final confession. Throw in Ippolit's old servant Tikon played by Mel Brooks and the audience has a complete set!
To be completely fair, even if Langella was not in this film, I would still love it. Ron Moody is a favorite of mine ever since he played Fagin in the musical Oliver! and Dom Deluise is an absolute gem of a comedian and quite the sneaky scene stealer. As my bff and I both agree, Deluise is the best thing in this movie. And we're both Langella fans!
Still, The Twelve Chairs gave Langella a decent start in acting. He was only 32-years-old at the time, the same age as I am now, but he possesses the experienced demeanor you would expect from a much older actor. Nothing surprises him. He struggles with nothing. Every interaction, every intonation of voice, every movement . . . all come together flawlessly. To say nothing of his height. How many 6"3' men do you meet who never, ever slouch? I mean, come on!
For me, The Twelve Chairs is HILARIOUS. It always makes me laugh, absolutely always. However, my sister finds it depressing, probably because she studied Russian history and anything having to do with Russia now depresses her. So, if you like dark comedies, try The Twelve Chairs. If you don't, well, maybe try it anyway and if you don't like it within half an hour, call it quits.
In better news, the film itself is actually the cleanest of Mel Brooks' films that I've seen. There's one make-out session Frank has with a girl and then a little bit of sexual innuendo on the mild, mild side. On the whole, it's a pretty clean comedy. If you enjoy films like The Wrong Box, The Trouble with Charlie, The Ladykillers and Arsenic and Old Lace then The Twelve Chairs stands a sporting change of making you snort your iced tea up your nose because you're laughing so hard. Love ya!