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The Twelve Chairs (1970) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • In 1920s Soviet Russia, a fallen aristocrat, a priest and a con artist search for a treasure of jewels hidden inside one of twelve dining chairs, lost during the revolution.

  • A treasure hunt. An aging ex-nobleman of the Czarist regime has finally adjusted to life under the commisars in Russia. Both he and the local priest find that the family jewels were hidden in a chair, one of a set of twelve. They return separately to Moscow to find the hidden fortune.

  • It's the late 1920's Soviet Union. Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov was an aristocrat prior to the Russian Revolution, but in addition to squandering away most of his wife's family's money at that time, lost everything during the revolution and now is a lowly government bureaucrat. He learns from his mother-in-law, on her deathbed, that during the revolution she hid all her jewels in what were then one of their twelve dining room chairs so that the Bolsheviks could not get a hold of them. Those jewels would now be worth upwards of 200,000 rubles, enough for Vorobyaninov once again to live a lavish life. Going back to the old family home where the dining room set should still be, he finds that the chairs have been largely dispersed individually. As he is a feckless man, he goes into cahoots with Ostap Bender, a con artist, to search for the twelve chairs, the prize being the unknown one with the hidden jewels. In addition to their task, they find that they have to steer one other off that search, namely the family priest, Father Fyodor, who learned of the jewels in Vorobyaninov's mother-in-law's last confession and who now wants the jewels for himself. Through and after the process of trying to locate the prized chair, Vorobyaninov may find out his true lot in life, or at least that for his immediate future.

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  • Years after the Russian Revolution in 1917, the former aristocrat Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov is informed by his terminal mother-in-law that she has hidden her jewels in a the upholstery of chair from a set of twelve chairs. The Orthodox Father Fyodor also hears and leaves the Church to seek out the treasure. Vorobyaninov travels to his old house and meets his former servant Tikon that adores him. He learns that the chairs had been expropriated by the new government and sent to another place. However the con artist Ostap Bender convinces Vorobyaninov to be his partner. They travel to Moscow where Ostap succeeds in luring Father Fyodor, telling that the chairs belong to the Engineer Bruns, who has very similar chairs and lives with his wife in Siberia. Will Vorobyaninov and Ostap find the twelve chairs?

  • Two Sherlock Holmes stories, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, and the Adventure of the Six Napoleons, involve jewels hidden in one of several identical items. In the latter, a mysterious burglar breaks into houses and smashes plaster busts of Napoleon. Sherlock figures out that the thief had pressed a stolen jewel into a still soft bust of Napoleon. one of 6 on a rack, but could not retrieve it before the busts were sold. Basil Rathbone, as Sherlock, solved the case in 1943.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • In the year 1927 in the Soviet Union, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov (Ron Moody), an impoverished aristocrat from Imperial Russia now working as a local village bureaucrat clerk, is summoned 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 corrupt Russian Orthodox priest Father Fyodor (Dom DeLuise), who had arrived to administer the Last Rites, decides to abandon the Church and attempt to steal the treasure for himself. Shortly afterwards in the town of Stargorod, where Vorobyaninov's former mansion is located, 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.

    Vorobyaninov goes to his former mansion where his old manservent Tikon (Mel Brooks) still resides along with several impoverished families crowding into the large estate to inquire about the 12 chairs. Tikon tells his former master that the chairs, along with all other private property, had been appropriated by the State after the Russian Revolution 10 years earlier. 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 send up 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 only to be thrown out of the engineer's house. When the engineer is reassigned to a post on the Black Sea, Fyodor follows him and buys the counterfeit chairs (on the condition that the engineer and his wife never see him again). He finds that none of the chairs has the jewels. Later, he runs across 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 after the jewels were accidentally found, they 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.

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