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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)
This Marx Bros. comedy features two lovers who are equally enamored with the art that is Opera. One is a failed operatic tenor whose unrequited love is kept snuff until he can win the role in the recent play. In typical Marx Bros. fashion, several comical interludes ensue, allowing the tenor to take center stage and give his two loves one last chance.
Director Sam Wood's "Night at the Opera" is one of the best of the zany Marx brothers outings.
Original film promotional tag line:
The basic story involves a sly, shifty promoter, Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho), who arranges for top Italian opera singers to come to New York on a ship. When two of Driftwood's wacky friends, Fiorello & Tomasso, and the love-struck, very talented fiancee, Ricardo Baroni, of the lead female opera star, Rosita, stow away on the ship, the shipboard life, and the New York opera scene, is humorously disrupted, with our heroes ultimately humiliating their stuffy, mean-spirited, snobby foes, and allowing a young talent to get his chance to perform in a lead part.
As usual, Margaret Dumont is on hand, to contrast her upper-crust stuffiness with Groucho's coarse shenanigans. She was a regular foil for Groucho in various films, always to good effect. With the help of Groucho, her character, Mrs. Claypool, is able to become an opera contributor, in order to arrive in high society. Once there, she switches her loyalty to the head of the opera company, Herman Gottlieb, expertly played by German actor, Sig Ruman, who excelled in his film career as playing a "comic menace," in many films.
The romantic subplot between Rosita and Richardo is less than riveting, but does work well for the time period it was made for, the 1930's, and is tied nicely together with the main plot.
The film loses some of its comic momentum during several operatic sequences, and musical guest shots of Chico playing the piano and of Harpo plucking the harp. Many films from this time period felt the need to have musical numbers included, even when the film wasn't particularly a musical. The Opera setting does scream for an opera sequence or two. Plus, having comedy stars that have musical talent in the same film was looked on as a big opportunity to be taken advantage of.
The well-done, operatic number, sung between the young singers in love, Rosita and Richardo (Kitty Carlisle & Allan Jones), right before the ship leaves for New York, however, had an important purpose, making it clear to the audience that the character and talent of Ricardo was much greater than Rosita's current costar; the mean, abusive, pompous Rudolpho Lassparri (Walter Woolf King). If only Richardo would be given a chance!!!!
There are many favorite scenes in this hilarious film. One of my favorite scenes takes place aboard ship. Because Driftwood is now out of favor with Mrs., Claypool, and at the mercy of Herman Gottlieb, he is assigned a stateroom aboard ship the size of a broom closet, with barely enough room for a bed and a trunk. Numerous people, plus the Marx Brothers, enter a very small stateroom to offer various services, to great comic effect; sort of like stuffing a phone booth with people.
Another favorite scene involves a legal contract discussion between Groucho and Chico. "The party of the first part" legal mumbo jumbo dialogue is a hoot. As they discuss in the language of legalese, they both literally tear out of the contract parts they agree to drop, in great satirical flair, all with a straight face.
Two other favorite scenes that are sidesplitting that aren't to be missed: (1) The creative way in which the three stowaways hide from the detective as he searches Groucho's New York hotel room, taking the evidence of their existence with them. (2) The New York operatic debut of Mrs. Claypool's sponsored opera is inter-spliced with the comedic foolery and shenanigans, happening behind the stage and in the orchestra pit.
This film is one of the greatest Marx Brothers' movies. These comedians' comedic wit and timing, plus their ability to pull off both slapstick, physical humor and satirical situations, all with a straight face, makes them one of the most talented, American comedian acts of the 20th century.
In his later years, Groucho was the host of a silly but popular game show called, "You Bet Your Life." An attempt to revive the show in the 90s, with Bill Cosby filling Groucho's shoes, failed to find an audience.