Sunday, July 27, 2014


(November 1935, U.S.)

The Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is one of their most challenging films for me to watch. On the one hand, it's funny as hell, thanks to the ever-traditional wild and spontaneous dialogue from Groucho Marx, in particular. On the other hand, it's very musical and if you've followed my blog long enough, you all know that I have a rather low tolerance level for musicals, which is why I end up fast-forwarding through the entire musical sequences throughout this film.

As is their usual style, the Marx Brothers (now just three of them because Zeppo was totally NOT funny!) are typically where they don't belong and getting involved in matters that are usually at risk of being threatened by their crazy antics. For this film, the three find themselves in the midst of a high profile opera company and the rather high society people who keep it all going. As is also their usual style, the brothers are always looking for a way to profit off of other people's business. Mind you, the Brothers can't sing opera (thank goodness!), but they're willing to put their minds and their faith behind a young and handsome opera singer who's also madly in love with another young and beautiful opera singer. The subject of love in just about any Marx Brothers film is very often a triangle and this one's no exception. Two young opera singers in love (by film standards, they're supposed to be the good guys) and the third opera singer who also wants the young, beautiful opera singer and who's also a bit of an asshole (the bad guy!). And while the Brothers can always be counted on to cause trouble wherever they go, they also have the good hearts to see that other good people get what they deserve, as well as seeing that the bad people get what they've got coming, as well.

As with any good Marx Brothers film (they're not all good!), there's always some sequences of action and dialogue that are better than others. For this film, there are two that come to mind. First is the irresistible negotiations of an opera singer's contract between Groucho and Chico in which the party of the first part is always and constantly the party of the first part! Sure, that makes little-to-no sense when I write it here, but just listen to it between the two brothers and how the confusion of negotiation persistently decreases the terms of the contract, and I promise you'll be laughing, too! Second is the physical gags of trying to stuff as many people as possible into a shoe box-size stateroom aboard a luxury ocean liner while repeatedly ordering an endless supply of hard boiled eggs for the always hungry Chico and Harpo. Here's what that scene looks like...

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA began a new era for the Marx Brothers' style of comedy. Whereas their previous comedies at Paramount Pictures consisted of a constant barrage of zany, free-for-all jokes sandwiched in between something that resembled a plot, this film was a rather calculated comedy with a stronger story structure, making the Brothers more sympathetic characters, interweaving their comedy with romantic plots and non-comic spectacular musical numbers (which I've told you I have little patience for!). The targets of their mischief are largely confined to clearer villains who we, as the audience, come to hate almost immediately. The Brothers' characters are more refined and that, in my opinion, may not necessarily be the best thing for a Marx Brothers film. Groucho now makes a bit more sense, and less trouble (that's a good thing??). Chico gains additional intelligence (that's a good thing??), and Harpo regresses into more of a child (what's changed??). The film dives straight into a plot and accompanying comedy, with every scene apparently having a definitive beginning, middle, and end. The end consisted of a grand finale in traditional MGM musical fashion at the time, something lacking from the Brothers' Paramount film efforts. In other words, with A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, the Brothers have changed and perhaps matured a bit. But really, when we're looking to sit down and enjoy a Marx Brothers film, are we really seeking maturity?? I think not! Still, the film is very worthwhile for outrageous laughs in all the right places. Unfortunately, for my tastes, it's the last Marx Brothers film I own and enjoy.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Otis B. Driftwood: "Now pay particular attention to this first clause because it's most important. It says the, uh..."The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part." How do you like that? That's pretty neat, eh?"
Fiorello: "No, that's no good."
Otis: "What's the matter with it?"
Fiorello: "I dunno. Let's hear it again."
Otis: "It says the, uh..."The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part."
Fiorello: "That sounds a little better this time."
Otis: "Well, it grows on you. Would you like to hear it once more?"
Fiorello: "Er...just the first part."
Otis: "What do you mean? The...the party of the first part?"
Fiorello: "No, the first part of the party of the first part."
Otis: "All right. It says the, uh, "The first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the first part of the party of the first part shall be known in this contract..." look, why should we quarrel about a thing like this? We'll take it right out, eh?"

No comments:

Post a Comment