A Night at the Opera (1935)



One just has to love the Marx Brothers as they do not make comedies like these anymore. While today’s generation of comedy involves raunchiness, it is the smart-alecky and sarcastic comebacks that made the Marx Brothers legends in the world of comedy. This was one of their best films.

Otis B. Driftwood is a sly business manager who had promised to enter widow Mrs. Claypool into high society. However, he has only been lacking in his promise and waste money. However, when he introduces Mrs. Claypool to Herbert Gottlieb, the director of the New York Opera, this becomes her prime chance to live her dream as a socialite. Gottlieb plans to bring Rodolfo Lasparri, a tenor with a reputation, to New York for a successful run.

Meanwhile, Lasparri has eyes for soprano Rosa. However, she has fallen hard for Ricardo, a chorusman who has just a powerful voice as the arrogant and snobby Lasparri. Ricardo’s old friend Fiorello returns and decides to become his manager. When Rosa is given her chance to go to New York, Fiorello, his mute friend Tomasso (Lasparri’s former dresser who abuses him), and Ricardo decide to stowaway on the ship to New York so Ricardo can finally profess his love for Rosa. What will happen when Otis gets involved, jeopardizing his chances of staying a member of high society?

In an age where raunchiness dominates comedy, it just brings back memories to see this film. The Marx Brothers, along with duos like Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy, truly made fans laugh during the Golden Age of Hollywood and still make people laugh today. The Marx Brothers, sans Zeppo, truly shine in this film, a satire on high society and could have been perhaps an influence on films like Caddyshack (1980), where the elite of high society are seen as the enemy and must be humiliated in any way.

Groucho Marx once again brings his hilarious sarcasm and smart-alecky way as business manager Otis B. Driftwood.  His introduction is quite funny in the film’s opening scene. Just hearing his comebacks truly show why he is one of the greatest comedians in film then and now. As for Chico Marx, as Fiorello, he brings a sort of slyness that matches perfect with Groucho, especially in a hilarious scene involving a contract. Harpo doesn’t talk at all in the film, but lets his physical comedy do the talking for him and he is just perfect.

The film has a love triangle involved and we’re not talking about Otis, the widow Mrs, Claypool, and Opera director Gottlieb. Although there is an assimilation of that, their “triangle” is strictly business. The real love triangle involves opera soprano Rosa, who is in love with chorusboy Ricardo, who is a tenor. However, the very pompous and more reputable Lasparri also has eyes for Rosa and attempts to woo her in any way possible despite her resistant due to her love for Ricardo. The love triangle truly helps drive the film along with the humor that only the Marx Brothers can supply.

The film would be the inspiration for the very funny Brain Donors (1992), starring John Turturro, Bob Nelson, and Mel Smith doing their renditions of the Marx Brothers’ humor but instead of the opera, that film focuses on ballet.

However, if you are in the mood for non-raunchy humor and a taste of the classic, definitely check out A Night at the Opera. The Marx Brothers are in top form here and the film will possibly make you want some “hard boiled eggs” (see below).


A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. production. Director: Sam Wood. Producer: Irving Thalberg. Writers: George S. Kaufman and Morrie Rysking; story by James Kevin McGuinness. Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad. Editing: William LeVanway.

Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Walter King, Sigfried Rumann, Margaret Dumont, Edward Keane, Robert Emmet O’Connor.


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