A Night at the Opera (1935)
After the success of their movie "Duck Soup", the Marx brothers found themselves needing to one-up their own work. Along comes "A Night at the Opera" which is a more coherent work than "Duck Soup"; but it's not quite as funny.
A mockery of Hollywood and the machine that makes one famous, "A Night at the Opera" places Otis Driftwood (Groucho) as an opera business manager. He gladly accepts the checks of one of the opera company's chief benefactors: Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont).
What is more interesting in the film is what happens behind the curtain. You have a pompous tenor named Lassparri who can't seem to get enough of himself. He's in love with the leading lady, Rosa (Kitty Carlisle). Then there's Ricardo (Allan Jones) a man with a gorgeous voice who doesn't have the experience to get on stage.
"A Night at the Opera" makes fun of the Catch-22 of the movie: you have to have experience to sing; but you can't sing without experience.
Lassparri's dressing boy (Harpo), like many others in the film, is someone who shouldn't be pushed around. After receiving one too many blows to the head, he knocks his boss out cold while Ricardo's old friend, Florello (Chico) decides that now is the best time to boost his friend's career. Ricardo's singing voice could best be described as anti-operatic as opposed to Rosa's. His singing voice brings back references to Bing Crosby and the like, it's a crooning voice instead of a powerful tenor...for whatever it's worth.
Florello and Otis almost strike a deal that will mean Ricardo's future is saved; but that doesn't quite happen.
When the opera company moves to America and they take Lassparri and Rosa with them, Otis doesn't know about the stowaways in his trunk. The trio made up of Ricardo, Chico, and Harpo get stuffed inside Otis' huge trunk and they end up on the steamship headed towards America.
Lots of the gags in the movie work, like the most famous: stuffing a small room with too many bodies. They file in one after the other with some poor excuse to be present until the door is opened and they all come tumbling out.
Then again, some of the gags don't work like the aforementioned negotiation of the contract.
There are moments that the movie pauses, but in these pauses there is both greatness and dullness. Coming out of the cramped cabin in search of food, the trio of stowaways join in the festivities on the ship. Ricardo sings some songs and then we get a break from everything to see Chico play the piano. Like a duet sung between lovers earlier in the movie, this has no place in the film; and it only gets worse when Harpo gets on the piano. However, when the harp enters, there is a moment of silence, crushing silence. It's a beautiful scene sandwiched between awkward moments.
That being said, "A Night at the Opera" is delightfully entertaining and quite crass for the day. It's a reminder that niche comedies like "30 Rock" would come later on.
But it isn't as good as "Duck Soup", which is a shame.
Posted by Micah Jones