A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
How would you shoot this scene? Dom DeLuise is playing a greed-crazed Russian Orthodox priest who has snatched away a chair that maybe has a fortune sewn into its seat. Pursued by two other fortune hunters, he somehow finds the superhuman strength to climb straight up the side of a mountain. On top, he rips the chair to shreds and finds no fortune inside. What's worse, he doesn't know how he got up the mountain and doesn't think he can get down again. He cries out: "Oh Lord, you're so STRICT."
Would you put the camera above him? Or go with a closeup? Or what? Mel Brooks, who probably understands movie comedy better than anyone since the silent era, plays the scene from the bottom of the mountain, and all we see is a flash of DeLuise's bald head. Just a flash, as we hear the line.
Now I don't expect that to seem very funny in print, but I wanted to point it out because somehow, if you can get inside this shot, you can get inside why Brooks is funny. The DeLuise character is filled with greed and with hatred for those who would steal his chair. He is a priest who would gladly sell his soul, or anything else, for a profit. There is not a shred of charity or kindness in him.
And yet when he cries out, the words are so full of anguish, so full of the bitter realization that the chair is indeed empty and that God has double-crossed him, that in his very avarice he becomes human. And then just the flash of the bald head. No close-up of his face, no throwing of arms out to heaven. Just a throwaway shot from halfway down the mountain, showing that bald head, and the shot is pathetic and funny, cruel and warm, all at once. And it is on this slender thread that "The Twelve Chairs" balances itself.