Movie Name: A Night at the Opera
Release Date(s): November 15, 1935
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) could be the biggest con-artist or the smartest man in the room. When he is tricked into signing singer Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones) by Baroni’s manager Fiorello (Chico Marx), Otis is out to make him a success. With Baroni, Driftwood, Fiorello, and Fiorello’s assistant Tomasso (Harpo Marx) stowing away to New York City, Driftwood must get Baroni to perform at the opera so the world can experience his talent…and recoup his expenses.
Directed by Sam Wood, A Night at the Opera is a 1935 comedy classic. The Marx Brothers movie often makes the “Best Of” lists and features uncredited writing help from Buster Keaton. In 1993, the movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.
I think the Marx Brothers are an acquired taste. I thought the movie was good, but it wasn’t necessarily my type of humor. Another slight problem with movies like A Night at the Opera is that they are so famous that many scenes and images have been emulated over and over again…even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve seen bits of the movie through other movies. When watching a movie like this, I try to imagine what it would be like to see something “new” like A Night at the Opera.
I will say that when compared to many comedy troops, the Marx Brothers get it right. The group nails the visual gags but also gets smart wordplay. Groucho obviously is the king of the sarcastic jab, and some of his jokes really nail it (others face the above problem of having been played out over and over again since the release of the film). The story is rather secondary in the long run, but it does at least provide the framework for the jokes.
The Marx Brothers also had every step covered in their acting style. Groucho is the witty one, Chio is the straight one, and Harpo is more the physical actor. They are joined by a nice supporting cast including Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones as the romance portion of the film and Sig Ruman and Walter Woolf King as foils to the characters.
The movie has a number of memorable scenes but is most known for the full room scene in which a small ship’s cabin is filled to the rim with people as Groucho keeps inviting more and more people into the cabin. The type of humor in the scene is pretty representative of the whole movie, but I have to admit that I always liked much of Harpo’s more physical humor more since he seems to bring a whole different style to the Marx Brothers films.
You can see the lasting effect of A Night at the Opera and the Marx Brothers in features and films for years and years. Anytime you watch something like Leslie Nielsen, Jim Carrey, or even the Waynes Bros, you can see aspects of the Marx Brothers show up. The group was so perfectly spread out between physical humor and word play that all comedy owes a debt to them…and A Night at the Opera is one of their best.