Fans of the Marx Brothers are split as to whether the carefully crafted "A Night at the Opera" is better than or inferior to the manic and chaotic Paramount features. I find myself in full agreement with the two most knowledgeable Marx Brothers fans of them all, Groucho and Harpo. Both say in print that "A Night at the Opera" is the best film they ever made.
The Marx Brothers spent the first half of their careers in small-time vaudeville. In fact they never made it into the big-time vaudeville circuit with such mega-stars as W.C. Fields, Eddy Cantor and Fanny Brice. Being the Marx Brothers, they made the wildly unlikely jump from vaudeville obscurity to Broadway hit with a show called (for no good reason that Groucho could ever recall) "I'll Say She Is". Their next hit show was "The Coconuts", which Paramount filmed during the day in New Jersey while they performed at night on New York's Great White Way.
The Brothers never forgot or lost faith in their vaudeville roots. They did not create their comedy, they forged it before live audiences, seeking shades of nuance or timing by direct experience. In the expansive Hollywood of Thalberg's day, MGM not only understood the Brothers' ways, it put them on the road to test out their comic paces. Many years ago, when this film first showed up on televison, my father told me that he had seen the Brothers do the stateroom scene at (I think) the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco.Read more ›
Sam Wood's "A Night at the Opera" is a film filled with the typical Marx Brothers fun. No comedy group has proven so adept at squeezing out laughs from any situation. The chaotic energy produced by the Brothers truly is something to behold as no circumstance can escape unscathed from their manic, yet wildly entertaining, comedic destructiveness.
Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) is a fast-talking manager who tells Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) that he can get her into high society if she agrees to invest her money in the New York Opera Company. The head of the opera company, Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) wants to use her money to hire Italian sensation Rodolfo Lassparri (Walter Woolf King) but Tomasso (Harpo Marx) and Fiorello (Chico Marx) want to steal the spotlight for their friend Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones), an up-and-coming tenor waiting for his big break. Also figuring into the mix is Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle), the beautiful soprano who is in love with Ricardo but who is also being pursued by Rodolfo.
"A Night at the Opera" is actually a sweet love story at its core. The destined pairing of Ricardo and Rosa is the one element of the story that keeps the film moving forward. So engaging is the couple that you're cheering for them from the start. However, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico together make up a comedic force that just will not be ignored. They do their very best to steal your attention away from the young lovers and they succeed as usual.Read more ›
Extra features are as follows:
Commentary by Leonard Maltin
All-New Documentary "Remarks On Marx"
The Hy Gardner Show (1/1/61) excerpt featuring Groucho Marx
Three Vintage MGM Shorts:
Fitzpatrick Traveltalk's Los Angeles: Wonder City Of The World
Sunday Night At The Trocadero
Robert Benchley's Academy Award -Winning How To Sleep
WB is releasing 6 other Marx Brother's films all at the same time. Universal also is preparing to release their Marx Brothers films this year, including "Duck Soup."
But when they're off screen (at least a third of the movie), you're left with an embarrassing melodrama I'm sure the movegoing audiences of 1935 found as sappy as I did. Bad enough the young Italian lovers sound like they're from New England section of Italy; worse are the musical interludes, which bring the film to a halt and destroy any comedic momentum the Marxes have created. A scene where Chico, Harpo and Jones show off their musical prowess goes on far too long and completely stops the film. Their earlier comedies had musical interludes, but they were woven into the films better. The opening number in Duck Soup, for example, is a lengthy set-up to the first joke; ditto the "We're Going to War" number. When the young lovers in A Night at the Opera sing "Alone," there's nothing but the youngsters staring moonily at each other. Their voices are fine, but the studios of the time were never short of movies with beautiful youngsters singing to each other. It's unnecessary here, and it reminds you the Marx Brothers aren't on screen.
"A Night at the Opera" was the Marxes' most successful comedy at the box office, and probably the most popular film they ever did. But time has been kinder to their earlier Paramount productions.Read more ›
This movie is a hilarious farce mocking opera.