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Though some claim that either HORSE FEATHERS OR DUCK SOUP was the
greatest Marx Brothers opus, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA has to be Marxdom's
signature film. The witticisms and riotous madcap from playwright
George Kaufman (THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER; YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU)
is evident everywhere in the some of the team's finest composition of
wit and physical comedy.
After taking over MGM studios in the 1930's, big-wig Irving Thallberg pulled the Marx Bros. aside and told them, "You know, you guys are missing only one thing in your pictures: you never help anybody." After OPERA, the Marx Brothers' scripts always revolved around either an attempt to get a romantic couple together or became an effort to save an institution from going under, i.e., THE BIG STORE; A DAY AT THE RACES; HORSE FEATHERS; THE BIG CIRCUS.
Margaret Dumont is established once and for all as Groucho's perfect romantic staple and a Marx Bros. movie just doesn't seem right without her. Sig Rumond appears to have been created in a Marx Brothers comedy factory and serves sensationally as the urbane Marx antagonist vying for Dumont's favors, though upended time and time again by Groucho. A young Kitty Carlisle and Allen Jones provide the romance and music--though many audiences never realize how fine an operatic voice Carlisle had in those days.
So many hilarious and classic routines fill A NIGHT AT THE OPERA that the movie offers itself as a study in Komedy 101: the unforgettable "contract" bit between Chico and Groucho (Chico can't read). As they try to sign an agreement about the rights to manage singer Allen Jones, they tear clause after clause off the paper until Chico finally asks: "What's this?" "Oh," replies Groucho, "that's just a sanity clause." Chico bursts out laughing. "Oh, you canna' fool me; there ain't' no sanity Klaus!..." The crowded state room scene where Groucho, Chico, and Hapro stow-away in a tiny cubicle and the shoebox crams with more and more people until Mrs. Claypool (Dumont) opens the door and everyone spills out...The hotel scene where Detective Henderson tries to nail the brothers for stowing-away and everyone races back and forth between suites, furniture is switched, and Henderson is left wondering if he's nuts...
But it is the film's finale during a live performance at the New York opera house that is perhaps the comedy team's grandest movie climax. The police, still after Harpo for stowing away, try to arrest him during a live performance. He breaks through the theater's backstage, swings over the proscenium like a trapeze artist, and, at one point, tears off the dress of one of the singers. "Well, now we're finally getting somewhere!" Groucho opines from the audience.
What a shame A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is not on television more often. Young people should be treated to comedy as it once was when laughter depended upon uproarious wit and a brand of physical comedy perfected by comedians through years of refining their craft in vaudeville.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is nothing less than an American comedy classic.
Trivia: Maragaret Dumont appeared with Groucho on THE Hollywood PALACE television show in 1965 and the couple did a brief repartee from GROUCHO's famous Captain Spaulding routine. The next day Dumont passed away...Her last film was in 1964 in the star-studded WHAT A WAY TO GO...Always playing a haughty spinstress with money, Dumont was, in fact, a millionairess in real life and commuted between Hollywood and London....Few realize what a fine operatic singer Kitty Carlisle was in the 1930's. In the 1950's and '60's she was a regular panelist on television quiz shows such as I'VE GOT A SECRET...She was also married to playwright Moss Hart who collaborated with George Kaufman on YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU, THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER, and many other plays. YOU CAN'T won the Pulitzer Prize...Allen Jones was the father of popular singer Jack Jones...Groucho said that it was while hanging out of an airplane in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946) that he finally realized the brothers had pretty much reached the end of the line in movies...The last picture in which all three brothers appeared was THE STORY OF MANKIND in 1957. Groucho played the part of Sir Isaac Newton...Groucho wrote many books: MEMOIRS OF A MANGY LOVER and LETTERS FROM GROUCHO...Harpo Marx also wrote his own autobiography: HARPO SPEAKS--a fine expose of the brothers' early years and the many stage shows they did perfecting their mayhem...When the stock market crashed in 1929, Groucho lost every dime he had: about $250,000...In the 1950's Groucho hosted his own television quiz show,YOU BET YOUR LIFE and both Harpo and Chico made surprise appearances...Chico was a lifetime gambler and would bet on anything...MINNIE'S BOYS, a stage play about the influence of Marx mother Minnie, was pretty much a flop in the 1970's...One of the all-time great quotations about the Marx Brothers came from playwright George Kaufman who, after watching the comedy team tear apart his script on stage in the early years, observed: "I could have sworn I just heard one of the original lines from the play."...Groucho was self-conscious about his lack of formal education and once had the chance to meet poet T.S. Eliot. He read many of Eliot's works and boned up on literature. When the two men did finally meet, all Eliot wanted to talk about was A NIGHT AT THE OPERA...One of Groucho's final performances just before he died was at Carnegie Hall in New York and it was a smashing success. He was accompanied by pianist Marvin Hamlisch...Film critic James Agee once said that the worst thing the Marx Brothers ever did was still better than everybody else...
"A Night at the Opera" is one of those films you can see dozens of
times and laugh just as hard as you did the first time. The brothers
get mixed up with an opera company and a divo and diva in love - Allan
Jones and Kitty Carlisle, and trying to get the two to perform
The one-liners come so fast - you keep thinking you'll remember them, but one is funnier than the next. I do remember what Groucho says when he sees the gypsy Azucena in the opera, however. "How would you like to feel how she looks?" The stateroom scene is, of course, a classic, and my favorite part is when Groucho tells the housekeeper, "I want two pillows on that bed" and Harpo sound asleep and being moved everywhere, including onto a tray of food.
But nothing beats the last half hour - the performance of "Il Trovatore" with Harpo using the stage ropes like Tarzan, and Chico playing baseball in the orchestra while Groucho sells peanuts. They have replaced part of the overture with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
Allan Jones plays the tenor Ricardo Baroni who is hoping for his break. Why they cast the blond Jones as a tenor named Baroni - well, there you go. He sings very well and is quite handsome. Kitty Carlisle is the diva waiting, petite and pretty and singing music out of her vocal type, with the exception of "Alone." "Stridono lassu" and Leonora in Trovatore were both much too heavy for her. She does sing well and what a woman - she's still alive and recently performed at a New York supper club recently at the age of 95.
The only problem with any Marx Brothers film is that when they aren't in front of the camera, suddenly their films become very slow. Because I was trained in opera and have some interest in it, this was less the case than with some of their other films. They were too magical, too energetic, and too darn funny to ever share a spotlight with anyone else. Thank goodness they did, though, as they left us with many treasures. This is one.
No doubt that "A Night at the Opera" is right up there with "Duck Soup" as
the best Marx Brothers movie. Some Marx-purists complain "ANatO" is when the
brothers started to grow soft and their quality started to decline. For one
thing, instead of ridiculing romantic couples (the love story subplot plays
a big part), they support them. Also, it's not as surreal or satirical as
their past films.
To those purists, I say: Lighten up! "ANatO" is just as funny as anything
the Marx Bros did in the past (heck, I think it's funnier than "Monkey
Business"), and it's withstood the test of time perfectly. In fact, "ANatO"
is said to be Groucho's favorite; he even called his previous films "duds"!
The film is filled with jabs at the upper class and double entendres
courtesy of Groucho. Sample:
Mrs. Claypool: Do you have everything, Otis?
Otis: I haven't had any complaints yet!
The love story subplot isn't as nauseating as 1937's "A Day at the Races". Allan Jones may be a bit too mushy, but Kitty Carlisle, the love interest, is cool and calm enough to help it go down easily (that's really her singing, by the way). Chico and Harpo have some inspired moments, such as their gleeful butchering of "Il Travotore" (sp?). The hapless villains are the funniest Marx foils ever, and the finale is just uproarious. "ANatO" is a wonderfully silly romp, and it's rather harmless, so kids can probably watch and enjoy it. The famous stateroom scene is nothing short of brilliant, and you'll find yourself humming along to "Cosi Cosa" (I just wish the ballad "Alone" had been left, well, alone). Don't miss this hilarious masterpiece. And now, on with the opera!!
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (MGM, 1935) directed by Sam Wood, re-introduces
the Marx Brothers to the screen following their five years at the
Paramount studio (1929-1933) to MGM, this being the start of a new
beginning and the end to their wild world of comedy. It also brings
forth their most popular comic foil of all, Margaret Dumont, from their
Broadway to Paramount days, and the return to a formula story and time
out for musical interludes either by the brothers or the romantic
lovers originally done in their initial films of THE COCOANUTS (1929)
and ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930). Aside from now being The Three Marx
Brothers (Zeppo who has since retired), their characters have been
toned down a bit, which helps. However, at MGM, with this, their best
film for the studio, Groucho and Harpo become victims instead of
instigators, with such notable scenes as Harpo employed as a dresser
for an abusive opera tenor (Walter Wolfe King) who slaps, hits and uses
a whip on him (at one point off camera) whenever getting out of line
with his buffoonery, and Groucho, who always wins out in every
situation physically and verbally, getting kicked down four flights of
stairs, which indicates they are not always indestructible, yet remain
in character from the old days whenever possible. Chico retains his
wiseacre Italian character, remaining notably the same from his
previous efforts, however, things will start to change not for the
better for him and his brothers in the movies to follow.
Plot summary: Introduction takes place in Milan, Italy, where Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) agrees to represent dowager Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) into society by arranging for her to invest $200,000 to Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman), director of the opera company so that he can afford to bring opera singers Rudolpho Lassparri (Walter King) and Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle) to New York City. Rudolpho loves Rosa, but she is more interested in Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones), an unknown singer working as a chorus-man, but with the help of Fiorelli (Chico), acting as his manager, and his partner, Tomasso (Harpo), the trio head for America by becoming stowaways on the S.S. Americus, hiding out in Driftwood's tiny stateroom in order for Ricardo to get his big chance as a singer. After Driftwood and his cronies arrive in at the Metropolitan Opera House, thanks to them in disrupting Rudolpho's performance that the art of opera will never be the same again.
The musical program: "Alone" (sung by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones) by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; "Cosi-Cosa" (sung by Allan Jones) by Bronislau Kaper, Walter Jurmann and Ned Washington; "All I Do is Dream of You" (by Brown and Freed/piano solo by Chico Marx); "Alone" (harp solo by Harpo Marx); and selections from Il Trovatore by Guiseppi Verdi: "Di quella pira," "Miserere," "Anvil Chorus," "Stride la Vampa" "Strido lassu" and "Miserere." Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle doing their duet, "Alone," him on the pear and she from the boat dock, Chico's fast finger piano playing, and Harpo's harp solo in a serious manner as he performs to a little old lady (facial shadow front only) who looks on approvingly, may not be highlights, but are truly memorable moments.
Highlights: Whenever anyone goes into discussion regarding A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, the first thing that comes immediately to mind is that famous state room scene involving Groucho, Chico and the sleeping Harpo, with various others involved, crammed together until the door opens, having them all falling out like dominoes. This hilarious bit is one that's remembered best with fondness and admiration. However, there are others worth noting: The opening where Dumont awaits for Groucho at a restaurant for an hour only to find him at the table behind her eating with another lady, is priceless; Groucho and Chico contract exchanges that becomes a "sanity clause"; arrested stowaway Harpo's attempt in escaping his detention cabin by crawling out of a porthole and hanging onto a rope outside only to be dumped into the ocean; Jones, Chico and Harpo in bearded disguises posing as celebrity aviators to give speeches on coast-to-coast radio, with the silent Harpo covering up his muteness by constantly drinking glasses of water; the disappearance of beds in Groucho's hotel room while the plainclothesman detective (Robert Emmett O'Connor) investigates; and of course, the climactic opera chaos by the Marxes, with one great bit with the orchestra playing the overture to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" after coming to the page with the planted song sheets, with Groucho acting as a vendor yelling "Peanuts! Peanuts!" to the patrons. A classic with Callas.
The supporting players: Newcomer Allan Jones steps in for the role that might have been offered to Zeppo. He is a likable actor with a fine singing voice who performs well opposite Kitty Carlisle (another recruit from Paramount and rare screen appearance, being best known as the TV panelist in the long running quiz show, "To Tell the Truth").
Footnote: It is quite evident that prints that have been circulating since commercial television days isn't complete. Missing footage is quite evident during the opening minutes of the story where the movie originally began with a musical number prior to the restaurant scene involving Groucho and Dumont. At present, this, along with other cut footage, no longer exists. Timed at 96minutes, the 90 minute version is the one available on Turner Classic Movies, VHS and DVD formats. Maybe one of these years a completely restored print of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA will suffice, but for now, this will have to do.
In closing: Get out those opera glasses and have yourself a grand night at the opera. (***1/2)
"A Night at the Opera" is great Marx Brothers entertainment. It has comedy,
music, and a good cast - everything except Zeppo, who by this time had left
the act. It fully deserves its reputation as one of the two best Marx
Brothers films, along with "Duck Soup".
"A Night at the Opera" is probably slightly less funny than "Duck Soup" (it is no criticism to say that of any film), but it has more of a story to connect the great comic bits. There is a good supporting cast in both films - here Sig Ruman is especially funny, in addition to the perennial Margaret Dumont. It also has several fairly long musical interludes - some are operatic, but the most entertaining is Chico and Harpo's impromptu shipboard entertainment.
Of course, the real attraction in any of these films is the comedy, and there are some memorable bits in this one. The contract negotiations between Chico and Groucho, and the scene in Groucho's stateroom, are especially hilarious, and you have to see the stateroom scene more than once to catch everything. And for sustained zany humor, the climactic sequence at the opera might be the funniest part of all.
This is certainly a must for Marx Brothers fans.
I didn't fully appreciate this film until my second viewing. Now I
think it's one of the better Marx Brothers film. The film - filled with
funny lines - has all the familiar MB trappings: good slapstick, good
and bad jokes and routines, wild scenes, several musical numbers and
general overall chaos.
The only thing not appealing to me in the film were some of the songs - not all, just some. Otherwise, it was all fun as Groucho, Chico and Harpo all share humorous lines and/or sight gags. Kitty Carlisle doesn't offer much in the way of a young beauty but it was still interesting to see her at this age as I had only known her through her "To Tell The Truth" television days. Alan Jones, meanwhile, is a pleasing singer and a nice guy, as always.
This is the film with the famous scene involving a ton of people being stuffed into Groucho's small cabin room. It's more amazing than funny. My favorite scenes were when Groucho and Chico got into discussions and trade lines back-and- forth. I also laughed heartily at the finale with Harpo swinging like Tarzan at the opera house.
In all, a funny MB film, one of the boys' better efforts. I play it with the English subtitles so as not to miss any of the great lines of dialog in here.
This is probably the best Marx Brothers film. It is certainly my favorite. The brothers destroy pomposity and pretension by the ton. The pieces of comic business were worked out through many live theater performances before the scenes were finally filmed. This craftsmanship never shows, but it pays off completely. The stateroom scene is a classic, and the total devastation of the opera is a delicious piece of craziness.
Amusing and entertaining Marx picture , it has a lot of funny material
and unfortunately intrusive songs . Groucho's wisecracks and the
incomparable Chico and Harpo carry the movie . It deals with a sly
business manager named Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) and two (Chico
Marx as Fiorello and Harpo Marx as Tomasso) wacky friends of two (Kitty
Carlisle as Rosa and Allan Jones as Ricardo) opera singers help them
achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies .
Later on , Marx Brothers anarchize the opera , insulting and mocking
the guests and players . Their actions include some on stage antics
during the stage debut , as they arrange for the normal tenor to be
absent so that the young lover named Ricardo can get his chance .
Classic Marx film with many funny sequences , this is the most sustained bit of insanity , full of crazy gags , antics and amusement , being now deemed a satiric masterpiece ,and one of the biggest hits . Although it suffers from staginess and musical comedy plotting but gives the zany threesome plenty of comic elaboration . Enough gags for give several movies , but our favorite is still the cabin scene . Despite the abundant songs and silly as well as sappy love story the movie maintains itself very well . This is a fun comedy as hilariously amusing as the films they made at Paramount with Zeppo . This is a M.G.M production lavishly financed by Irving Thalberg . Excellent Harpo Marx , as usual , he even did many of his own stunts , he later said it was a silly thing for a 47-year-old non-stuntman to have done . Groucho said that this was his favorite among his movies . The Marx Bros (minus Zeppo) are in peak form in this vintage musical comedy with co-star the legendary Margaret Dumont , including sparkling dialogs with Groucho . Furthermore , Sig Ruman makes his first of three appearances in The Marx Brothers films. However , this is the first Marx Brothers film made without brother Zeppo Marx, it started a new trend of The Marx Brothers movies featuring a Zeppo-like supporting character who carries the love story and sings the song . The motion picture was well directed by Sam Wood . Sam Wood, freshman The Marx Brothers director in this film, was a perfectionist , the scene in which Harpo Marx hangs from the rope was filmed so many times that Harpo Marx's hands became cut and swollen from the rope . Don't miss it , one of the funniest picture ever made by Marx Brothers
Other important films starred by Marx Brothers -many of them Broadway farce plays transfered by scenarists into vehicle for the Brothres- , they are the followings : ¨Animal crackers¨, ¨Duck soap¨ that was a flop when first released but today considered a masterpiece , ¨Horse Feathers¨, ¨At the circus¨, ¨Day at the races¨ , ¨Room service¨ , ¨Go West¨, ¨Love Happy¨ and ¨Night in Casablanca¨, though in 1946 the Marx formula was wearing thin . Any film with Groucho , Chico , Harpo and Zeppo is well worth seeing .
This film is the first and probably the best Marx Brothers film made by MGM. Unlike later MGM/Marx collaborations, this film has energy and creativity. However, it also has LOTS of singing--hence, the title of the movie. That means in addition to the usual Chico and Harpo songs, there is a lot of operatic-type stuff from the duo of Jones and Carlisle. For me, these songs were frankly the low-point of the picture, but for some dumb reason, Hollywood's conventional wisdom was that comedies MUST have musical numbers to be appreciated by wider audiences. This same formula was foisted upon WC Fields, Abbott and Costello and even Laurel and Hardy. However, this movie is th rare exception that is STILL good in spite of the pointless songs.
Classic comedy involving Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) trying to get
Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) into high society--and romancing her to
get her money. He figures opera is the best way and gets involved with
Chico, Harpo and rising opera singers Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle)
and Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones).
The plot doesn't really matter too much--it's just a jumping off point for the Marx Brothers to stage one hysterical scene after another. The jokes fly fast and furious and there are quite a few standout scenes: Chico and Groucho negotiating a contract; the infamous stateroom scene; Harpo, Chico and Jones impersonating three airmen; the brothers fooling a policeman by switching furniture from room to room and the total destruction of the opera "Il Travatore" at the end.
This is also one of the few Marx Brothers movies that's not destroyed by an unnecessary romance or lousy sings. Carlisle and Jones make an engaging couple and the two big songs--"Cosi Cosa" and "Alone"--are actually pretty good. "Alone" actually became a big hit back when this movie was released. The only bad points here are Chico and Harpos obligatory piano and harp solos--but those are small points in the whole movie.
I'm really surprised this isn't in IMDb's top 100 movies--this is a true comedy classic. A 10 all the way.
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