Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#667. A Night at the Opera (1935)

Directed By: Sam Wood

Starring: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx

Tag line: "Don't miss it! The funniest picture ever made!"

Trivia:  In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #85 Greatest American Movie of All Time

A Night at the Opera - the Marx Brothers' 1935 comedy that tackles high society like no film had before it - features a number of insanely funny scenes, certainly some of the best work the trio has ever done (The 4th brother, Zeppo, had left the team by this point).  

Unfortunately, A Night at the Opera was also the last great movie the siblings would make together.

Part-time business manager and full-time con artist Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho) wants to worm his way into the good graces of wealthy widow Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont). Knowing she's a patron of the New York Opera, Driftwood attempts to sign Rudolfo Lassparri (Walter King) to a long-term contract, which would bring the arrogant Italian Tenor to America, thus guaranteeing Mrs. Claypool's eternal gratitude. 

But Driftwood makes the mistake of instead entering into a contract with Ricardo (Allan Jones), a talented yet virtually unknown singer who wants to make it big so he can marry Rosa (Kitty Carlisle), the love of his life. 

Along with his bumbling pals Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), Ricardo stows away on a ship bound for New York, where he hopes to become a star. But with the Marx Brothers on the loose, the city may never be the same again!

Many of the comic routines in A Night at the Opera are among the finest the brothers ever devised. Along with the now-famous “Stateroom Scene”, where Groucho's ocean liner cabin becomes so overcrowded that it explodes into the hallway, there's a magnificent sequence in which the three Marx's play “musical cots” in their hotel room, to confuse a plainclothes detective (who, according to Groucho, looks “more like an old clothes detective”). 

Groucho fires off his standard barrage of hilarious one-liners, usually aimed directly at Mrs. Claypool. “I saw Mrs. Claypool first”, he angrily says to Gottlieb (Sig Ruman), a rival who is also attempting to woo the affluent socialite. “Of course, her mother really saw her first”, Groucho adds, “but there's no point bringing the Civil War into this”. 

And then, there's the unforgettable moment when Groucho and Chico are arguing over a contract, with Groucho trying to explain what a sanity clause is. “You can't fool me”, Chico blurts out. “There ain't no Sanity Claus!”. Sure enough, there's hardly any sanity at all in A Night at the Opera, and that's what makes it so nearly perfect.

After the financial failure of their earlier films (including the now-classic Duck Soup), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - which had just signed the Marx Brothers to a multi-picture deal - convinced them their box-office appeal would improve with the inclusion of a romantic sub-plot, usually accompanied by a handful of musical interludes. 

Unfortunately, these asides, which were almost always heavy-handed and dull, only succeeded in bogging down the pace of the trio's later pictures. Even in A Night at the Opera, the love story involving Ricardo and Rosa is an unnecessary distraction, but with so many moments of inspired anarchy tossed into the mix, you barely notice how vapid it truly is. 

And while the brothers would falter in later years with forgettable entries like A Day At The Races and At the Circus, A Night at the Opera still stands as a shining example of just how brilliant these three comedians truly were.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

A Night at the Opera is one my 50 Greatest Movies I'll be reviewing at my blog. I do fast-forward through the singing though.

DVD Infatuation said...

Robert: Thanks for stopping by! Your comments are always appreciated.

I look forward to reading your take on this film (please be sure to stop back and post a link once it's up).

And while I don't forward through the singing myself, I SURE DO want to sometimes!

terence torres said...

YES, CYNDI LAUPER'S SCENE IN THE MTV AWARD WINNING VIDEO " Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" is very slap shtick similar to In both "Partying in the Rooms" and "Room Service" is delivered in "A Night at the Opera" the door flys open and everyone falls out, in Cyndi's Video their partying in her bedroom and the pizza delivery arrives out flys the door & everyone fell out of the room! Fun Times! But where was the toilet paper streamers !!!
Terence Torres

DVD Infatuation said...

Terrence: Thanks for the comment!

It's been a while since I've seen that Cyndi Lauper video (I thank you for breaking it down for me...brings the memory rushing back!), but even back then, I knew it borrowed from this movie!

Thanks again