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, contains a good number of insanely funny scenes, certainly some of the best work the trio had ever done. Unfortunately, it was also the last great movie they'd 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 winning 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 Marx 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 brothers 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's also trying 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 how brilliant these three comedians truly were.