The Thirteen Chairs

The Thirteen Chairs
French theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Based onDvenadtsat stulyev (The Twelve Chairs)
by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov
Produced by
CinematographyGiuseppe Ruzzolini
Edited byGiancarlo Cappelli
Music by
  • CEF
Distributed byNPF Planfilm
Release dates
  • 7 October 1969 (1969-10-07) (Italy)
  • 1 May 1970 (1970-05-01) (New York City)
  • 8 July 1970 (1970-07-08) (France)
  • 15 August 1970 (1970-08-15) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
  • Italy
  • France

The Thirteen Chairs (French: 12 + 1; Italian: Una su 13) is a 1969 comedy film directed by Nicolas Gessner and Luciano Lucignani and starring Sharon Tate, Vittorio Gassman and Orson Welles, and featuring Vittorio De Sica, Terry-Thomas, Mylène Demongeot, Grégoire Aslan, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Lionel Jeffries. It is based on the 1928 satirical novel The Twelve Chairs by Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, which has been adapted many times (including a 1970 version directed by Mel Brooks).


Mario Beretti is a young Italian-American barber who runs a barber shop in New York City located near a construction site that boasts few customers. His life reaches a turning point when he is notified of the death of his aunt living in Lavenham, England, who named him her sole heir.

Mario rushes to England and learns that his inheritance consists of not much; only thirteen antique chairs that have a certain value. He sells them in order to cover his transportation costs, but soon learns from his Aunt Laura's last message that inside one of the chairs is a fortune in jewels. He tries to buy back the chairs, but is unsuccessful in doing so. With the help of lovely American antiques dealer Pat, working in the antiques shop in front of Aunt Laura's house, where he sold the chairs, the two then set out on a bizarre quest to track down the chairs that takes them from London to Paris and to Rome. Along the way, they meet a bunch of equally bizarre characters, including the driver of a furniture moving van named Albert; a prostitute named Judy; Maurice, the leader of a traveling theater company that stages a poor version of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; the Italian entrepreneur Carlo Di Seta; and his vivacious daughter Stefanella.

The bizarre chase ends in Rome, where the chair containing the jewels finds its way into a truck and is collected by nuns who auction it off to charity. With nothing much left to do as a result of the failure of his quest, Mario travels back to New York City by ship as Pat sees him off and waves goodbye to him.

The film ends with Mario returning to New York City and to his barber shop. His friends over at the other (and more lavish) shop join him, as do two construction workers and his last customer Randomhouse. It is there that Mario makes a strange discovery: shortly before his departure for Europe, he invented a way to make hair regrow miraculously. He then laughs ecstatically over his discovery.


Production and release[]

The Thirteen Chairs was filmed from February to May 1969. Orson Welles and Tim Brooke-Taylor had their scenes filmed during a break from shooting Welles' comedic film One Man Band. Brooke-Taylor recalled:

I went to film in Cinecitta and was in the producer's office. Ed Pope was on the phone trying to persuade Orson to do the film. He was running through a list of the cast, big names but Orson was not liking them. Eventually Mr Pope got to my name. Pope had no clue who I was and asked where I might be. I nervously put my hand up and was given the phone with the whisper "Get him to do it." A limo was ordered for me to meet Orson in a café in the Via Veneto. Orson's first words were "This is a load of crap." He was partly right but I kept pointing out the good bits as I desperately wanted him to do it. We agreed to completely re-write his scenes.

"He originally was going to be a magician, but we re-wrote the scene with him as a ham actor doing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. We shot most of it in a cinema in Rome and some in the Players' Theatre in London. They were evening shoots in Rome. Orson would occasionally get annoyed with the director and ask me to take over. He'd usually had a drink or two and I found myself shouting "Get over there you big fat pouf.". He'd stop, glare and then smile and return to doing what I'd asked. He knew he and I were on the same side. It's not a great film, but I thought he was wonderful and terrific to work with."

"When I got back to London we still had some filming to work on his TV project. When I disagreed over something he said, "Just because you've been in a B movie doesn't mean you know everything now." He grinned and said "Sorry, I meant an A movie" remembering he was in it as well. I didn't see him again after that. But I always had the best memories of working with a truly great man.[1]

Because the script for Sharon Tate's scenes called for several semi-nude scenes, the director arranged to film those scenes first. As filming (and her pregnancy) progressed, the director obscured Tate's stomach with large purses and scarves. This is most apparent in the scene following her ride in the furniture mover's van.

The Thirteen Chairs was Tate's final film, with many people saying that she had a knack for comedy and were excited for her next film contract (equal to over $1,000,000 in today's money).

Home media[]

The film was released through rental only by Force Video in 1986 under the Thirteen Chairs title, and again a year later by Continental Video, under the original 12 + 1 title. On 12 March 2008, the film was released on DVD in Italy by 01 Distribution. This version is in Italian, lacks English subtitles, and does not include an English audio track.


  1. ^ Seely, Michael (August 26, 2017). "When the Goodies met Orson Welles". We Are Cult.

External links[]