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Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Mel Brooks’ version of this oft-filmed Russian story (the one about the jewels hidden in a lost chair) was probably too gentle a comedy to catch on commercially. It misses the blissed-out vulgarity of his debut pic, THE PRODUCERS/’68, and the built-in gags of his genre parodies, while the humanistic comic touches can’t overcome the lacunae in Brooks’ filmmaking chops. His staging remains, as ever, barely evolved from ‘50s tv variety shows. Does anyone still find under-cranked chase sequences funny? But the sturdy plot mechanics help a lot, as do the charming Yugoslavian locations and the winning cast. The relatively young, relatively lean Dom De Luise is fresh & funny as a fortune hunting Father, "Come on, God!" And can that tall youth with the ripe matinee idol looks really be Frank Langella? But it’s Ron Moody, fresh off his Oscar nom in OLIVER!/’68, playing the rightful heir who hits the tone everyone is trying for. Halfway thru the pic, he stops pushing for laughs and lets the comedy & the emotion play out ‘straight.’ Fitfully, you see what a Lubitsch might have done with this. Brooks can only hint at such accomplishments, and the film remains a-road-not-taken on his CV, but a loveable one.

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