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In Russia in 1927, Vorobyaninov, an elderly license clerk who was once a nobleman, is informed by his dying mother that she hid a fortune in jewels in one of 12 matching chairs during the 1917 Revolution. He returns to his ancestral home to retrieve the inheritance, but he mistakenly reveals his secret to beggar Ostap Bender and is forced to accept the young man as a partner. Together they set out in search of the chairs and soon discover that Father Fyodor, a Russian Orthodox priest who heard Vorobyaninov's mother's last confession, is also in search of the jewels. Ostap, posing as a clerk in the Bureau of Housing, tricks Father Fyodor into traveling to Siberia to the home of engineer Bruns, who he is told is in possession of the chairs. Meanwhile, Vorobyaninov and Ostap locate several of the chairs in the Moscow Museum of Furniture, and after closing time, they sneak out of hiding, search through the chairs, but find no jewels. Ostap and Vorobyaninov then learn that several more of the chairs are being used as props by the Columbus Repertory Theatre Group; they join the troupe, search the chairs, but again find no gems. Another chair, used by a tightrope walker in a circus, is searched, also to no avail. Desperate for money, the two men perform a begging act in which Vorobyaninov feigns an epileptic seizure as Ostap passes his hat to sympathetic onlookers. Finally, they come upon the last chair in a railroad workers' clubhouse only to discover that the jewels were found by the workers and used to buy chess sets and other items for their recreation room. His dream of wealth destroyed, Ostap decides to break up his partnership with the old man, but he relents when Vorobyaninov goes into his routine of feigning epilepsy as a crowd gathers.