A Night at the Opera (1935) Poster

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Marx Bros. Masterpiece
dencar_16 April 2005
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...

Dennis Caracciolo
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The best Marx Brothers film, the best comedy, the best everything
blanche-21 January 2007
"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 together.

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.
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A classic all the way!
gapeach1723 April 2002
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!!
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Great Marx Brothers Entertainment
Snow Leopard18 June 2001
"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.
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Phantoms of the Opera
lugonian30 May 2006
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)
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I Appreciate This One Now!
ccthemovieman-121 October 2006
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.
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The Marx Brothers against the world
mermatt1 August 1998
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.
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Relentlessly hilarious and outrageous musical comedy that still works very well
ma-cortes17 November 2013
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 .
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one of those timeless crowd-pleasing comedies; a Marx brothers hit on many levels
MisterWhiplash18 March 2009
A Night at the Opera is comedy that still hits about as out of the park as imaginable as a true entertainment vehicle. There's comedy, there's music, there's musical numbers, there's action, there's drama, there's romance, there's even fake beards and "Take me out the Ballgame" performed in an opera house "by accident" of course. It also gives a showcase for its main three jovial anarchists (Groucho, Harpo and Chico) as smashing as its production; it's a million dollars well spent, and when you aren't laughing you're at least smiling or enjoying a melodic tune or some good opera melodies. Whether or not it hits so strongly that it might top the quintessential Marx flick, Duck Soup, can be arguable for as long as one can type keys or stretch vocal chords. There's good arguments on either side, and while I myself might be inclined to say that Duck Soup is the "best film" of the Marxs, Night at the Opera might be as, if not more, plain fun.

And it's so unforgettable, with scene after moment after continuous gag that goes so far along that it becomes funny just seeing how long these guys can keep going. There's a scene mid-way through A Night at the Opera that might be just about perfect: Groucho has his tiny room. At first the gag is simply that the room is almost too small to even fit the luggage case he has (also fitting inside Chico, Harpo and the conventional leading-man opera singer stowaway). Groucho orders breakfast- an amazing and wonderfully long gag involving an order of hard-boiled eggs- and then the maids come in, and then others come in, and then more come in, and lines like "You know I had a premonition you were going to show up. The engineers right there in the corner. You can chop your way right through." Harpo is still asleep, of course, trying to cure his insomnia by sleeping on top of everybody else shuffling around... it all builds so much that it's like its own piece of frantic, combustible music, and it's one of those pure scenes in movies that one can never really top, only try and imitate and get OK in their own right.

There are others that strike up such strong laughs, exchanges of dialog that go on like verbal assaults in the form of an argument over a contract between Groucho and Chico ("Sanity clause" "I don't believe in it!"), or just the continuous string of syncopated insults and throwaway lines from Groucho that cut right to the matter and even find some new twists one would never think of outside of his mind. But it's not all just raucous and crazy behavior from the stars; there's also the opera itself, that big long sequence where the "plan" is unfolded and "WAR" is unleashed upon the production (my favorite is the bit where the various set pieces on stage keep falling down behind the singer, at one point falling right in front him), and a kind of sweetness that pops up often that keeps it from being too, uh... insane, like say Duck Soup could arguably be called.

Insanity, of course, is what the Marx's excel at, an organized chaos of comedy that is so seamless because of how energized and random some of the things happen with- but there is logic, as warped as it can be, like the other classic number when the brothers and opera singer carry out the beds one by one around the window or through the door evading the totally perplexed eyes of the officer. There's such a kind of graceful choreography to this that is slipped under the veneer or complete WHAT! moments that keep these movies so fresh so very long after. And it's a sweet movie too; a movie may be criticized for taking an extended break from the story, however loose it may be, and Night at the Opera can have that against it. But the break it takes, with the big musical number and dance and Chico and Harpo's playing on the piano and latter on the harp, is so touching and fun and inventive. You'll be smiling and just wrapped up in the childlike awe of these moments as opposed to grumbling and wondering "where's the story?"

Story? Marx don't need no stinking story! Between the three brothers, and on occasion even the slightly weaker but still crucial "normal" plot line with the love between the talented amateur singer and the star played by Carlisle, there's enough material at times for two movies. The real joy of Night at the Opera, and it happens often, is seeing these three guys go to work at the best of what they do: Groucho's remarks and verbal intelligence (or just damn bravery), Chico's slightly dim but well-meaning immigrant type, and Harpo as... Harpo, damn it, he doesn't need to be explained (well, maybe the water bit is a little strange, but par for the course). It's joyful and hilarious cinema on parade, even better on a big screen, albeit the noticeable random jump cuts are annoying in any format.
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Skip Past the Maudlin Interruptions to the Funny Bits.
jzappa18 March 2009
In this, the first Marx brothers picture to feature only Groucho, Chico and Harpo, the trio helps (?) two young lovers to flourish in love and in the opera world, preferably in a different order. Actually, preferably one without the other. Groucho, playing, Otis B. Driftwood, is hired by a forlorn upper-class aspirer to help her break into aristocratic society, but he favors to charm and insult her off and on. At the last opera performance of the season in Italy, of Pagliacci, Groucho meets Chico, who is the best friend and manager of an opera singer who yearns for his big break and who is in love with peer opera singer Kitty Carlisle. However, his dreams are overtaken by the star of the opera, Lassparri, a vainglorious bore who wants notoriety and Kitty Carlisle both for himself. Groucho signs the longing young singer to a contract, thinking he is signing Lassparri, who in the meantime is signed for the New York opera by a pompous entrepreneur. It could might be the best bit in the movie: Chico says in his embellished Italian accent, "Hey, wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?" Groucho: "Oh, that? Oh, that's the usual clause, that's in every contract. That just says, uh, if any of the parties participating in this contract are not in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified." "Well, I don't know..." "It's all right. That's, in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause." "Ha! You can't fool me. There ain't no Sanity Clause!"

Although Chico and his client are not allowed to follow the ensemble to New York, they stow away on the ship, along with Harpo, a dresser fired by Lassparri. Once in New York, the stowaways are chased by the police as illegal aliens, and it all leads to a climactic comeuppance for all the stuffed shirts when the Marx brothers wreck the opening night performance of Il Trovatore by hurtling it into complete anarchy and making a last-chance shot for both of the idealistic young lovers to be the new hits of the opera world.

Yes, the picture is indeed fun, but allow me to slaughter a sacred cow here and say that it's deeply weakened by all that schmaltzy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayerism. The Marx brothers were ultimately an anti-authoritarian presence that let off a lot of steam with shock value, warrantless aggravation, mean-spiritedness and pranks. Early studio-era MGM never did seem to understand that spectacle, romance and song-and-dance are indeed a curse to some films. Forgive me. I know how many purist toes I might've just stomped, but I have to be honest here, or there's no point in me writing this. Am I really the only one who fast- forwards over the maudlin interruptions to essentially pare it down simply to the hard-boiled eggs, the stateroom scene, Sanity Clause and the actual sabotaging of the opera? Duck Soup, on the other hand, is hilarious from beginning to end.
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Ironically the most memorable film about opera ever made!
theowinthrop14 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Marx Brothers were set adrift by Paramount in 1933 after making arguably their best satiric comedy DUCK SOUP. For two years they rarely worked together (an exception was a briefly heard radio show called FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER, AND FLYWHEEL about crooked lawyers which had Groucho and Chico - unfortunately, like their silent film HUMORISK, the recordings of the show no longer exist*). Zeppo left the team, to pursue a career as a movie agent. Chico and Harpo did some band touring.

[*The scrips have survived, and been published.]

Then Chico made a valuable contact - he played cards with Irving Thalberg, who was almost as powerful a figure at MGM as Louis B. Mayer. Thalberg decided to sign the brothers to a contract where he'd be their producer. The contract was a unique one - it promised the brothers a percentage of the gross of the first two films, which was a rarity in Hollywood acting contracts. The contract also enabled the brothers to perform their material from the film live on stage. This enabled them to hone material as they did in vaudeville and on Broadway. They were lucky in the writers for this first film (George S. Kaufman, Morris Ryskine, and Al Boasberg). And they had a good cast, including their old "female" Marx Brother Margaret Dumont.

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA has (since it appeared in 1935) been accepted as one of the best Marx vehicles, and ties with DUCK SOUP as their supreme work. It's detractors say that it had too many points that would bring down the Brothers later films after A DAY AT THE RACES, such as the love story that is tied to the plot and the fact that the brothers are frequently brought to a low point from which to rise with all their power against their opponents. The latter seemed to "humanize" them too much. Actually the love stories had been part of their movies since THE COCONUTS, and in HORSE FEATHERS and DUCK SOUP the villains did momentarily trounce the brothers. As for humanizing the brothers, their antics at the opera here and the race track in A DAY AT THE RACES are so devious and strenuous you find them comic supermen in both films. It is the tragedy of the post 1938 years (after ROOM SERVICE) that Mayer simply did not care to help them as Thalberg had done.

The plot of the film is how Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho), an agent for Mrs. Claypool (Dumont) (trying to make a splash in society) arranges to have her meet Herman Gottlieb (Ruman), the head of the Metropolitan Opera, while they are in Italy. Ruman is willing to have Dumont finance the season of the Met, and is trying to sign up one Rodolfo Lasspari (Walter Woolf King) as his new tenor. King is a good tenor, but an egotist and bully, constantly beating his servant Tomasso (Harpo). He has been trying to get his soprano Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle) to take an interest in him on a social basis. But Rosa is in love with a junior tenor in the chorus, Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones). Ricardo's friend Fiorello (Chico) is his agent, and manages to hoodwink Driftwood into contracting to get Ricardo to be the lead tenor at the Met, while Gottlieb manages to get a contract with Lasspari. The plot follows how the characters get to America by ocean liner (Ricardo, Fiorello, and Tomasso as stowaways), how the stowaways and Driftwood run afoul of the law by a public hoax, how Driftwood and Rosa both lose their positions at the Opera, and how the Marxes get their revenge on Gottlieb, the New York Police, and Lasspari in the concluding twenty minutes of the film.

Pauline Kael once described the conclusion as: "The Brothers do to IL TROVATORI what should be done to Il TROVATORI." It is a worthy target as far as popular operas go. Verdi's music is wonderful as ever in that opera, but the storyline is so complicated and ridiculous (about a missing nobleman's son, and the rivalry of the surviving son with a gypsy for the love of the heroine) that people tend not to consider it among their favorite Verdi operas (not like, say AIDA or RIGOLETTO). It's improbable plot involving stolen children and gypsies is shown for what it is when (in demolishing the production) Harpo causes various backdrops to rise and fall, including a pushcart on an American street and a battleship's gun turret to fall behind the gypsy woman's campfire! You just cannot take it seriously.

The conclusion is wonderful, but so is the double talk of the contract negotiations between Groucho and Chico (later repeated with Ruman), the great stateroom sequence (written by Al Boasberg), the City Hall greeting by the Mayor to the three Russian aviators, and the wonderful almost surreal sequence where Police Sgt. Hennesey (Robert Emmett O'Connor) goes between two rooms and a fire escape to find beds flying from one to another, and to find an old woman and a man with a strange beard and mustache reading a paper at the end (Harpo and Groucho - Chico pretending to be a chair underneath Harpo)- believing he has managed to enter the wrong apartment! The singing by all three leads (King also had a decent voice) is fine, with Jones and Carlisle given a first rate tune ("Alone") for their duet in the departure sequence. Jones has a decent follow-up with "Cosi, Cosa", turned into a major production with Harpo, Chico, and the "immigrant" passengers singing and dancing to it.

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA remains a first rate comic masterpiece, and a fine addition to the Marx Brothers' work in general.
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Along with "Duck Soup" this is the Marx Brothers best movie
preppy-38 August 2006
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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awfully good but too much singing
MartinHafer6 February 2006
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.
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Of What I've Seen, My Favorite 1930s Comedy
gavin69421 February 2010
"In A Night At the Opera, the Marx brothers help two young lovers to succeed in love as well as in the opera world." That's the most bare of plots. And, in fact, the joy of this film does not come with the plot, but with the numerous off-track happenings. Thank you, Marx Brothers.

The Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho, are amazing at verbal and barbed comedy. The puns and jabs are almost non-stop, and they are so quick they might not even sink in until moments later. Some might be dated (like a reference to the Canadian quintuplets) but for the most part this film stands firm. I loved the "sanity clause" remark and many others.

The most notable scene involves a large number of people packed into a small room, and was partially written by Buster Keaton. I do not know how much Keaton and the Marxes worked together over all, but if this was any indication, they should have continued. Keaton's physical comedy is evident, and Groucho's running commentary is wonderful.

One of the most mysterious influences this film had on others is probably with Rob Zombie. He has written characters named "Otis B. Driftwood" and "Captain Spaulding" in homage to the Marx Brothers, and has other references, as well. It's pretty bizarre to connect this fun, sarcastic comedy to a bloodbath... but, then, stranger things have happened.

I recommend this film to anyone. As far as early comedies go, Chaplin and Keaton are good, but I think the Marx Brothers really take the cake. Their memory has faded over the years, but this is most unfortunate... the humor is no less magical today.
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Perhaps the best the Marx Brothers ever accomplished.
bobsgrock31 July 2008
Don't get me wrong, Duck Soup is absolutely hilarious and features some great political satire, but I think A Night at the Opera reigns supreme as the best the Marx Brothers ever did. Perhaps the reason is that they finally got a polished and logical script with an actual realistic story combined with some likable characters and incredibly funny comic bits. From Animal Crackers to Duck Soup, the Marx's years at Paramount seemed more about just being zany and ridiculous and goofy. And while they all were funny in their own right, I thought only Animal Crackers and Duck Soup could be called truly great. The others just weren't as cohesive as they could have been, thus making the humor not as consistent.

To be frank, this has to be the funniest the Marx Brothers ever were. Groucho plays his most sublime and offensive character yet with some of the best one-liners written for him yet. Harpo and Chico also are very good as two stowaways trying to help a young man become a famous singer and reunite with his opera lover. The only complaint I have is that there are some parts with too much singing that could have been cut out. More Groucho never hurt a movie, but this is still very funny all the time. A classic in its own right.
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Two hard-boiled eggs and other great marxisms
Petri Pelkonen23 September 2007
This time the Marx brothers make fun of the high culture.They step into the world of opera and no one can stop them.A Night at the Opera (1935) is directed by Sam Wood and George S.Kaufman is behind the screenplay.In this movie the Marx brothers collaborated with the producer Irving Thalberg for the first time.This is the first Marx movie without Zeppo in it.He retired after Duck Soup (1933).A farce can't get too much better than this.Oh what a riot they cause at the opera house.There's Harpo behaving like Tarzan and dressed all funny with Chico.They also do "Take Me Out to the Ball Game".It's awfully funny when that small stateroom in the ship is packed with people.Then there's the contract-tearing scene between Groucho and Chico.Party of the first part of the...Hilarious! And Chico saying "There ain't no sanity clause."Brilliant! With the Marx brothers we of course have the brilliant Margaret Dumont playing Mrs.Claypool.The recently passed away Kitty Carlisle is Rosa Castaldi.Allan Jones (replacing Zeppo) is her sweetheart Ricardo Baroni.Sig Ruman and his beard is Herbert Gottlieb.Walter Woolf King is the villain Lassparri.This is a truly recommended comic masterpiece.The anarchy rules when the Marx brothers are in control.
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Harpo the Important Ingrediant
dougmarshall_9414225 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie has been analyzed for the last 70 years. Still alive is Kitty Carlisle Hart, who plays Rosa. She had the chance to sing opera, and she pulls it off admirably. (She married Moss Hart, who was associated with George Kaufman, who wrote this and other Marx comedies. YOU do the math!) Why isn't SHE on the commentary track for this film on DVD? Leonard Maltin is OK, but even HE doesn't know that "Frenchy" Marx, the father of the Marx Brothers, is seen sitting on the dock, waving at the ship, in "Monkey Business", NOT "Night At The Opera".

Allan Jones fills in Zeppos shoes, with a fine singing voice, and a likable personality. Groucho's lines, classic or not, and Chicko's piano playing, unrivalled, and who is responsible for giving us Mel Torme, nevertheless could have been done by ANY leading film comedian; it is Harpo Marx that makes this, or any Marx Brothers movie, distinguishable from other movies by other comedy teams. How could a screenwriter write for Harpo? How much is his contribution, and how much the suggestion of the screenwriter or director? My guess? NONE. His expression as he passes along the buffet, as food upon food is piled up on him, is classic. It is honest. His playing with the kids on the piano, and his playing to the old Italian woman, touching her cheek at the end of Alone, speaks VOLUMES about Harpo. His scenes playing the harp are extraordinary. Look at his face! His whole demeanor changes. He wrote in Harpo Speaks that there are two Harpos. The crazy one. And the one playing harp. The one playing harp represents the real Harpo Marx. Look at the pancake scene. Groucho is almost laughing out loud at Harpo's antics! Alan Jones is laughing out loud! How many takes it took to film these scenes without the crew being heard laughing is anyone's guess. My guess is they had to really bite their lips. Groucho's wise cracks may have been equalled by any, Chicko's dialect, ditto. But Harpo? Maybe Chaplin came close, but he had no equal EVER!
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My favorite Marx Brothers Film
Wayner5020 June 2006
"A Night At The Opera" is my personal favorite Marx Brothers flick, barely edging "Duck Soup", and "Horsefeathers". It's so good that not even the obligatory romantic couple can ruin it. Although Allen Jones and Kitty Carlisle are really a cut above most of the cute, cuddly distractions. Nearly every scene is a gem, Groucho and Chico haggling over the world's greatest tenor's contract, the stateroom overflow, the ring around the rosie as Hennesy, the cop, tries to find the other brothers in Groucho's hotel room and the climactic opera, featuring Groucho's welcoming speech, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", Harpo's journey through the stage and scenery, and the authorities clumsy attempts to catch the brothers. Still hilarious, featuring the usual hectoring of the long suffering, but still dignified Margaret Dumont, the popping of the pompous Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) and the final comeuppance of the snooty Lassparri (Walter Wolf).
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It's my favorite...and this is why.
Brian Cassidy12 October 2004
This is my favorite movie for many reasons... This movie, I believe, is the climax of the Marx Brothers talents. Groucho's witty humor gets me every time and Chico and Harpo make the perfect team for humor. The music is breathtaking and, unlike another reviewer, I believe plays a crucial part of the movie, since they are dealing with an opera. Another note, that same reviewer stated that many bits were reused jokes from their earlier film "Monkey Business". This is true, but "A Night at the Opera" was made through MGM, where as "Monkey Business" was created at Paramount, I believe. This movie, in its release, had a much broader viewing audience. On a more personal note, I have heard statements that the humor doesn't transcend generations, and that is comepletely false. I am 19 and have grown up watching the Marx Brothers, and had worries showing the DVD of "A Night at the Opera" (Which, I swear, was the first person in Minnesota to buy)but they caught the humor and have borrowed it numerous times.
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I don't know...
zetes23 May 2001
This one I did not find all that great. Personally, I absolutely love Duck Soup, but I was unimpressed with A Night at the Opera. It was funny enough, sure, but, when I watch a movie by the same talent who created Duck Soup, I expect something that'll almost kill me with laughter. This film is often hilarious, especially at its beginning, but it suffers from long dry spells, some boring musical numbers (unlike the fantastic ones in Duck Soup), and a couple of set pieces which I just did not find as funny as the Marx Brothers may have wanted me to. Specifically, the hotel sequence. Harpo's breakfast was funny, but the whole avoiding the police officer thing I disliked. Also, the end setpiece with all three brothers being pursued around a stage while an opera was occurring was funny at first, but grew old in its persistence. I still liked the film, but I'm only giving it a 7/10.
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The last best hope...
winner554 June 2006
This is the finest single comedy in the history of American film (barring outright satire and baldfaced slapstick). That is, this is the "everyman's" comedy of American film. If you can't find something to laugh about here, visit a psychiatrist, you've really got a problem.

On a more serious note, I must admit that the long pauses that were interjected into the film to accommodate audience laughter grow less and less tolerable over time, and it would be worth something to have these removed for a limited special edition release.

Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing.

Other comedians could parody Hitler; only the Marxes could parody war (Duck Soup) and then swing around and, by parodying opera (Night at the Opera), remind us that the grand scheme of monsters doesn't amount to much compared to a sweet melody, a colorful dance, or the wink of a lover.

Without ever performing a scene from Shakespeare, the Marx Bros. brought the Bard's humor up to date.
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...And two hard-boiled eggs.
Scott LeBrun5 December 2016
Groucho Marx is in his element as slick, fast talking business manager Otis B. Driftwood, who spends his time playing up to arts patron Mrs. Claypool (classic Marx Bros. foil Margaret Dumont). When he sees that she's willing to pony up $1,000 a night to have pompous Lassparri (Walter Woolf King) sing, he wants a piece of the action. Circumstance soon throws him together with equally sly Fiorello (Chico) and goofy Tomasso (Harpo), as they become determined to help out young lovers & aspiring opera stars Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) and Ricardo (Allan Jones).

Even if one is not a fan of the opera, they shouldn't let that dissuade them from checking out the Marx Bros. in their glory. Some buffs consider this their best film, and it certainly shows off their talents to memorable effect. Musical interludes do go on a bit long, but the quality of the comedy when it occurs is top notch. There are some truly great bits in here, like the "party of the first part" contract, the overcrowded (to say the least) stateroom sequence, and the frantic, farcical efforts of Otis, Fiorello, Tomasso, and Ricardo to pull the wool over the eyes of a suspicious inspector (Robert Emmett O'Connor) by moving beds from one room to another.

Groucho is hilarious, as always. Very few entertainers in film history can fire off a one-liner as snappily as he does. Chico and Harpo have their wonderful moments, as well. (It's such a hoot when Harpo does a Spider-Man routine near the end.) Carlisle and Jones are extremely appealing, Dumont is once again a fine "straight woman", King is an appropriately snooty villain, Sig Ruman is superb as eternally frustrated Gottlieb, and O'Connor is likewise good as the antics of Otis and company take a toll on him.

The pace isn't always consistent, but there is some enjoyable action and first rate stunt work. Overall, this is a solid comedy / musical that will appeal to any lover of this era in cinema.

Eight out of 10.
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Best of the Marxes
pitsburghfuzz19 January 2010
Even thought he funniest Marx Bros. movie was Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera was the best made of the movies. Many people consider this to be the 2nd greatest, but I say this was the best. The story was good, but the comedy was hilarious. The music is pretty good too. The brothers were all very funny. The story involves opera stars making their debut in America. Is that all? No. When the Marxes are involved, there is more to it than that. The comedy scenes were hilarious but the best scenes were the states room and the clause scene. Anyway, Groucho plays a woman's financial adviser(Dumont) and she donates money to the opera manager (Ruman)Then you have two young lovers(Carlise and Jones) but cannot be together because she is being sent to America. Harpo and Chico are partners as usual, and the story goes on from there.
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I love it. Love it.
dockbennett19 September 2009
Maybe I'm biased because it's the first Marx Brothers film I ever saw, but this remains my favourite of theirs, and one of my favourite films of all. One thing that strikes me about it is it's not only funny, but FUN! To share just one example, when Groucho's looking out of the ship's porthole, trying to pull Harpo in as he's hanging from a rope, he says, "You're alright, but the boat's too far away!" It's just a happy, gleeful moment. And the music. All the music is wonderful. The songs are lovely, and Allen sings beautifully, although I don't care much of Carlisle's voice. She just wasn't very good. And I can never get enough of Chico's incredible piano playing - I dream of being able to play like that - while Harpo's harping is lovely. "Duck Soup" is up there as one of their best, but for me, "A Night At The Opera" will always be number one. I love it with a passion.
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Not familiar with Marx movies? Try this one.
S.R. Dipaling2 October 2008
I must admit that I am very light in personal knowledge of MArx Brothers films,and aside from the general information,imagery and quotes(the majority of which came from the irrepressible Groucho)that have been used and attributed in Western culture over the last seventy or eighty odd years,I have a very scant referential knowledge of their legendary body of film work.

With that in mind,when I saw the public library had a copy of this film in its stacks,it was a no-brainer for me. And it was a largely pleasing film experience as well.

The storyline seems to be somewhat insignificant: Brothers MArx are scattered about the goings on at a Venetian Opera company as it moves from Europe to New York City. They conspire to break a humble but talented tenor into the main role of the traveling show,as he is mooning over the young ingénue(Kitty Carlisle Hart,WELL before becoming the grand dame of TV Panel game shows!). But aside from the fair amount of music(hey,this IS,after all set in an Opera,so it goes to reason),this is mostly a physical comedy,laced with plenty of Groucho's standard one-liners. From watching his dealings with various straight people,from old stand-by MArgaret Dumont as his society-climbing wife,to the various lugs who signify authority(Theater directors,producers,society bigwigs,ship crew,policemen,local magistrates,etc.),Groucho is not only able to keep the humor legendarily fast and loose but also keeps the tempo of the dialog from bogging(I even noticed a sort of inspiration the creators at WArner Brothers got for Bugs Bunny from Groucho's witticisms!).

Maybe not the best of the Marxes films--though I still don't have a real gauge of opinion on this yet--but it's a fantastic starter film to build familiarity.
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