A Night at the Opera


1h 36m 1935
A Night at the Opera

Brief Synopsis

Three zanies turn an operatic performance into chaos in their efforts to promote their protege's romance with the leading lady.

Photos & Videos

A Night at the Opera - Publicity Stills
A Night at the Opera - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
A Night at the Opera - Movie Posters

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Musical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Nov 15, 1935
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 8 Nov 1935
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Synopsis

In Milan, wealthy Mrs. Claypool has hired Otis B. Driftwood to help her enter society, but he merely helps himself to her money. He does introduce her to opera impresario Herman Gottlieb, however, who convinces her to hire tenor Rudolfo Lassparri for his New York opera company. Lassparri is a cad who beats his dresser Tomasso, and tries to captivate Rosa, a soprano who only loves chorus singer Ricardo Barone. Rosa also has an offer to go to America and is sad to leave Ricardo, until she learns that he is stowing away with Tomasso and his old friend Fiorello, who has a mutilated contract with Driftwood for Ricardo's services. They stay in Driftwood's room, which is crowded with one occupant, but bulges to overflowing as the stowaways, assorted maids, waiters, repairmen, and a woman looking for her Aunt Minnie, wander in. When they dock in New York, the stowaways unsuccessfully pose as a trio of bearded aviators, then hide in Driftwood's hotel to avoid deportation. Meanwhile, although Rosa and Lassparri are set to perform Il Trovatore , Lassparri refuses to sing with her because she rejects his amorous advances. Driftwood, Tomasso and Fiorello have a plan, though, and turn the performance into chaos. Tomasso crosses bows with the conductor, the music to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" is substituted for the opera's score, and Driftwood sells peanuts in the aisles. When Detective Henderson arrives with the police looking for the stowaways, the stage is a shambles, but the day is saved when Lassparri refuses to perform any longer and Ricardo takes his place, with Rosa by his side.

Photo Collections

A Night at the Opera - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity photos taken for MGM's A Night at the Opera (1935), starring the Marx Bros. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
A Night at the Opera - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's A Night at the Opera (1935), starring the Marx Bros. and directed by Sam Wood.
A Night at the Opera - Movie Posters
Here is a group of American release movie posters for A Night at the Opera (1935), starring the Marx Brothers.

Videos

Movie Clip

Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Party of the First Part Driftwood (Groucho Marx) and Fiorello (Chico Marx) conduct business relating to an opera singer's contract in a famous scene from A Night at the Opera 1935, the screenplay credited to George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - State Dinner Driftwood (Groucho Marx) is working one scheme with Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) and Gottlieb (Sig Rumann) and another with Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) during a state dinner on the ship in A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Otis B. Driftwood The opening scene introduces Groucho Marx as "Otis B. Driftwood," Margaret Dumont as his stood-up date "Mrs. Claypool," and Sig Rumann as the baffled impresario "Gottlieb" in A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Our Distinguished Guests The stowaways (Chico and Harpo Marx and Allan Jones) have stolen beards from the famous aviators and must impersonate them with help from Driftwood (Groucho Marx) in A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - Fiorello, Tomasso Fiorello (Chico Marx) meets Tomasso (Harpo Marx) backstage for a salami exchange before visiting with old pal and singer Ricardo (Allan Jones) in an early scene from A Night at the Opera, 1935.
Night at the Opera, A (1935) - State Room This is most of the famed "State Room" sequence featuring Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx along with Harry "Zoop" Welsh as the steward and too many others in A Night at the Opera, 1935.

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Musical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Nov 15, 1935
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 8 Nov 1935
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
Distribution Company
Loew's Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
10 reels

Articles

The Essentials - A Night at the Opera


SYNOPSIS

Con man and "promoter" Otis B. Driftwood is trying to woo the wealthy Mrs. Claypool into investing in an opera company by promising to secure her entry into high society. The stars of the Milan-based company are the vain, mean-spirited Rudolfo and the sweet, talented Rosa. Rosa is in love with the tenor Ricardo, who has been consigned to the chorus by his rival, Rudolfo. Ricardo's agent, Fiorello, and Rudolfo's put-upon dresser, Tomasso, also become involved in Driftwood's scheme, which brings everyone together on an ocean liner bound for New York. Once in the States, Rudolfo has both Driftwood and Rosa fired from the company. They get their revenge, however, by totally devastating the company's production of Il Trovatore, kidnapping Rudolfo, and triumphantly substituting Rosa and Ricardo in the leads.

Director: Sam Wood
Producer: Irving G. Thalberg
Screenplay: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind
Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad
Editor: William LeVanway
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa), Allan Jones (Ricardo), Walter Woolf King (Rudolfo).
BW-92m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

Why A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is Essential

Marx Brothers fans are generally divided over the quality of the early '30s Paramount period (Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, etc.) vs. the MGM period (A Day at the Races, Go West, etc.), which was kicked off by A Night at the Opera, their most successful movie. Paramount purists will hail the anarchic comedy of the earlier films, the ones more closely akin to the Marx Brothers' stage career. They are superior, they say, for their lack of both sentimentality and clear logic, for the way the brothers - unfettered by serious or consistent character motivations and definitions - run rampant over the rather fantastic worlds created in the films.

Defenders of the MGM films will usually admit that the franchise went steadily downhill over the years but they like to point out that at least the later films didn't include the boring Zeppo and it's hard to top A Night at the Opera. With its justly famous stateroom scene, the verbal bantering and punning of Groucho and Chico, and the shredding of an entire Verdi opera, this movie has outlasted all the others in the opinion of most moviegoers as the brothers' all-time classic.

The very virtues touted by those who prefer the earlier films are exactly what brought the Marxes to Metro in the first place and what made them willingly follow the advice of the studio's Boy Wonder production chief, Irving G. Thalberg. The last of the Paramount films, Duck Soup (1933), although hailed as a cult classic now and often considered the team's masterpiece, was a miserable flop both critically and commercially. The brothers found themselves without a studio, without one of their members (Zeppo, who left to pursue a career off camera), and without any future film prospects. But Chico, ever the gambler, was a bridge partner of Irving Thalberg, who happened to be a Marx fan. And so, under his powerful patronage, the team got a fresh start at the biggest studio in the business.

Thalberg thought one of the Marx Brothers' major problems was that they appealed only to a minority of moviegoers, particularly the intellectual elite, and that they were ignoring the sizable female audience that so often decided which films the family would see. He also found them to be unsympathetic characters on screen. To solve this, he strengthened the romantic musical-comedy aspect of the plots and put the Marxes into them as kindly and helpful types rather than the uninhibited anarchists they were in the Paramount comedies. The storylines became more straightforward, the brothers' characters more logically integrated, and the production values much more lavish in the typical MGM tradition.

For some, that was a loss. After all, hadn't Thalberg stripped Harpo of his trademark overcoat, in which he could conceal almost anything? And as the films became more formulaic and restrained after Thalberg's death, that opinion seemed to be justified. But the Marx Brothers themselves knew their old approach was beginning to repeat itself too much, so they were cautiously eager to let Thalberg give them a makeover.

Harpo wrote years later, "Our trouble, Irving said, was that we were a big-time act using small-time material. We belonged in A-pictures, not in, hodgepodge, patchwork jobs. Our movies should have believable plots, love stories, big casts, production numbers. We were afraid this would take us out of our element, but Thalberg said, 'Don't worry about a thing. You get me the laughs and I'll get you the story."

Get the laughs they certainly did, and audiences are still laughing at their antics today. Here are some of the most famous Marx Brothers scenes: 15 people crowding into Groucho's tiny shipboard stateroom; Groucho ordering two hardboiled eggs from the ship steward, changing it to three each time Harpo honks his horn; Groucho and Chico agreeing on the terms of Ricardo's contract by tearing away all disputed passages until they're left with only a scrap of paper. And despite the introduction of a "kinder, gentler" Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera still contains many elements of their trademark zany, anarchic humor: Chico, Harpo and Allan Jones disguising themselves as rather strange and inexplicable bearded aviator heroes to escape the authorities; the brothers eluding a private detective by leading him on a mad chase through a hotel suite whose furniture they keep rearranging; and, of course, Groucho's one-liners, particularly those hurled at Margaret Dumont in what is half courtship, half character assassination.

Despite its eventual success, A Night at the Opera was nearly a disaster. It was previewed in Long Beach, Calif., where the audience sat stone-faced throughout the entire show. In the lobby later, Groucho was practically suicidal, and Chico, desperate for an excuse, insisted the response was because the mayor of Long Beach had recently died. Everybody, especially director Sam Wood, was ready to re-cut the picture, but Thalberg insisted they preview it in San Diego the next night before doing anything. The San Diego audience fell into the aisles laughing. To this day, no one can explain the reaction in Long Beach.

by Rob Nixon
The Essentials - A Night At The Opera

The Essentials - A Night at the Opera

SYNOPSIS Con man and "promoter" Otis B. Driftwood is trying to woo the wealthy Mrs. Claypool into investing in an opera company by promising to secure her entry into high society. The stars of the Milan-based company are the vain, mean-spirited Rudolfo and the sweet, talented Rosa. Rosa is in love with the tenor Ricardo, who has been consigned to the chorus by his rival, Rudolfo. Ricardo's agent, Fiorello, and Rudolfo's put-upon dresser, Tomasso, also become involved in Driftwood's scheme, which brings everyone together on an ocean liner bound for New York. Once in the States, Rudolfo has both Driftwood and Rosa fired from the company. They get their revenge, however, by totally devastating the company's production of Il Trovatore, kidnapping Rudolfo, and triumphantly substituting Rosa and Ricardo in the leads. Director: Sam Wood Producer: Irving G. Thalberg Screenplay: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstad Editor: William LeVanway Art Director: Cedric Gibbons Original Music: Herbert Stothart Cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa), Allan Jones (Ricardo), Walter Woolf King (Rudolfo). BW-92m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. Why A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is Essential Marx Brothers fans are generally divided over the quality of the early '30s Paramount period (Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup, etc.) vs. the MGM period (A Day at the Races, Go West, etc.), which was kicked off by A Night at the Opera, their most successful movie. Paramount purists will hail the anarchic comedy of the earlier films, the ones more closely akin to the Marx Brothers' stage career. They are superior, they say, for their lack of both sentimentality and clear logic, for the way the brothers - unfettered by serious or consistent character motivations and definitions - run rampant over the rather fantastic worlds created in the films. Defenders of the MGM films will usually admit that the franchise went steadily downhill over the years but they like to point out that at least the later films didn't include the boring Zeppo and it's hard to top A Night at the Opera. With its justly famous stateroom scene, the verbal bantering and punning of Groucho and Chico, and the shredding of an entire Verdi opera, this movie has outlasted all the others in the opinion of most moviegoers as the brothers' all-time classic. The very virtues touted by those who prefer the earlier films are exactly what brought the Marxes to Metro in the first place and what made them willingly follow the advice of the studio's Boy Wonder production chief, Irving G. Thalberg. The last of the Paramount films, Duck Soup (1933), although hailed as a cult classic now and often considered the team's masterpiece, was a miserable flop both critically and commercially. The brothers found themselves without a studio, without one of their members (Zeppo, who left to pursue a career off camera), and without any future film prospects. But Chico, ever the gambler, was a bridge partner of Irving Thalberg, who happened to be a Marx fan. And so, under his powerful patronage, the team got a fresh start at the biggest studio in the business. Thalberg thought one of the Marx Brothers' major problems was that they appealed only to a minority of moviegoers, particularly the intellectual elite, and that they were ignoring the sizable female audience that so often decided which films the family would see. He also found them to be unsympathetic characters on screen. To solve this, he strengthened the romantic musical-comedy aspect of the plots and put the Marxes into them as kindly and helpful types rather than the uninhibited anarchists they were in the Paramount comedies. The storylines became more straightforward, the brothers' characters more logically integrated, and the production values much more lavish in the typical MGM tradition. For some, that was a loss. After all, hadn't Thalberg stripped Harpo of his trademark overcoat, in which he could conceal almost anything? And as the films became more formulaic and restrained after Thalberg's death, that opinion seemed to be justified. But the Marx Brothers themselves knew their old approach was beginning to repeat itself too much, so they were cautiously eager to let Thalberg give them a makeover. Harpo wrote years later, "Our trouble, Irving said, was that we were a big-time act using small-time material. We belonged in A-pictures, not in, hodgepodge, patchwork jobs. Our movies should have believable plots, love stories, big casts, production numbers. We were afraid this would take us out of our element, but Thalberg said, 'Don't worry about a thing. You get me the laughs and I'll get you the story." Get the laughs they certainly did, and audiences are still laughing at their antics today. Here are some of the most famous Marx Brothers scenes: 15 people crowding into Groucho's tiny shipboard stateroom; Groucho ordering two hardboiled eggs from the ship steward, changing it to three each time Harpo honks his horn; Groucho and Chico agreeing on the terms of Ricardo's contract by tearing away all disputed passages until they're left with only a scrap of paper. And despite the introduction of a "kinder, gentler" Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera still contains many elements of their trademark zany, anarchic humor: Chico, Harpo and Allan Jones disguising themselves as rather strange and inexplicable bearded aviator heroes to escape the authorities; the brothers eluding a private detective by leading him on a mad chase through a hotel suite whose furniture they keep rearranging; and, of course, Groucho's one-liners, particularly those hurled at Margaret Dumont in what is half courtship, half character assassination. Despite its eventual success, A Night at the Opera was nearly a disaster. It was previewed in Long Beach, Calif., where the audience sat stone-faced throughout the entire show. In the lobby later, Groucho was practically suicidal, and Chico, desperate for an excuse, insisted the response was because the mayor of Long Beach had recently died. Everybody, especially director Sam Wood, was ready to re-cut the picture, but Thalberg insisted they preview it in San Diego the next night before doing anything. The San Diego audience fell into the aisles laughing. To this day, no one can explain the reaction in Long Beach. by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - A Night at the Opera


"Alone," the song Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle sing and Groucho plays on the harp, became one of the top hits of 1936. It was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who went on to become the head of MGM's musical production in the 1940s - the unit responsible for such hits as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and On the Town (1949).

The rock group Queen released an album in 1975 titled A Night at the Opera, containing one of their most famous songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody." A year later, they released the album A Day at the Races, which, like the 1937 Marx Brothers film of the same name, was judged by critics to be not as good as its predecessor.

A totally unrelated animated film with the same title was made in The Netherlands in 1998.

In the ocean liner sequence, Chico and Harpo slip away from the elegant upper decks to party with the immigrant steerage passengers below. The poor masses are shown to be more fun loving and lively than their superiors, a scene reminiscent of a very similar one in Titanic (1997).

MGM continued to make a bundle on the movie by reissuing it a few years later on a double bill with the Clark Gable-Spencer Tracy-Jeanette MacDonald film San Francisco (1936). It turned out to be a popular combination: Jeanette MacDonald singing opera as the city fell to rubble around her, and the Marx Brothers reducing Verdi's Il Trovatore to virtual rubble.

by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - A Night at the Opera

"Alone," the song Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle sing and Groucho plays on the harp, became one of the top hits of 1936. It was written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, who went on to become the head of MGM's musical production in the 1940s - the unit responsible for such hits as Singin' in the Rain (1952) and On the Town (1949). The rock group Queen released an album in 1975 titled A Night at the Opera, containing one of their most famous songs, "Bohemian Rhapsody." A year later, they released the album A Day at the Races, which, like the 1937 Marx Brothers film of the same name, was judged by critics to be not as good as its predecessor. A totally unrelated animated film with the same title was made in The Netherlands in 1998. In the ocean liner sequence, Chico and Harpo slip away from the elegant upper decks to party with the immigrant steerage passengers below. The poor masses are shown to be more fun loving and lively than their superiors, a scene reminiscent of a very similar one in Titanic (1997). MGM continued to make a bundle on the movie by reissuing it a few years later on a double bill with the Clark Gable-Spencer Tracy-Jeanette MacDonald film San Francisco (1936). It turned out to be a popular combination: Jeanette MacDonald singing opera as the city fell to rubble around her, and the Marx Brothers reducing Verdi's Il Trovatore to virtual rubble. by Rob Nixon

Trivia - A Night at the Opera - Trivia & Fun Facts About A NIGHT AT THE OPERA


A Night at the Opera was the first Marx Brothers film without Zeppo. Feeling his talent was being wasted playing the bland straight man in their first five movies, he left the group shortly after the debacle of Duck Soup (1933). When Groucho, Harpo and Chico first met with Irving Thalberg to discuss working at MGM, the producer asked if three brothers would cost less than four. "Don't be silly," Groucho shot back. "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much."

Zeppo went on to become a very successful agent. As his brothers' representative, he negotiated the deal to buy the rights to the Broadway hit Room Service, which the Marxes made into a picture in 1938. His second wife, Barbara, from whom he was divorced in 1972, later married Frank Sinatra. Something of a mechanical wiz, he patented in 1969 a wristwatch for cardiac patients, from which an alarm would sound if the wearer went into cardiac arrest. His company, Marman Products, produced clamping devices that were used in the first atomic bomb raids over Japan in 1945.

The perennial Marx Brothers leading lady - and the object of Groucho's flirtations and insults - Margaret Dumont was very much like the character she played in A Night at the Opera, Mrs. Claypool, and in seven other Marx films. Morrie Ryskind, co-author of three Marx movies, including this one, said she was a society widow in need of a job, so she went on the stage. Although she had great success in Marx Brothers' shows and, later, movies, she claimed never to quite get what was going on. Groucho once said she was "always the stuffy, dignified matron. She took everything seriously. She would say to me: 'Julie [his real name], why are they laughing?'" Dumont was born in Atlanta in 1889 and brought up in the home of her godfather, Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus stories. Early in life, she trained for the opera. She died in 1965.

Director Sam Wood temporarily replaced the ill Victor Fleming (himself a replacement for George Cukor) during the making of Gone with the Wind (1939).

Allan Jones was Jeanette MacDonald's first choice to be her co-star in Naughty Marietta (1935), but because he was tied up with this picture, she made the movie with Nelson Eddy, the first of their eight movies together. Jones is the father of the singer Jack Jones, popular in the 1960s.

Kitty Carlisle married Moss Hart, frequent collaborator of George S. Kaufman, who co-wrote this script. Although an accomplished singer, she is best known as a panelist on a number of TV game shows of the 1950s and 60s, including To Tell the Truth and I've Got a Secret. She made only four movies after A Night at the Opera; the most recent is Six Degrees of Separation (1993).

FUN QUOTES FROM A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

Driftwood (Groucho): I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there's no point in bringing the Civil War into this.

Driftwood: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.

Driftwood: Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor.

Mrs. Claypool: I've been sitting right here since 7:00.
Driftwood: Yes, with your back to me. When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay.

Driftwood: That woman? Do you know why I sat with her? Because she reminded me of you.
Mrs. Claypool: Really.
Driftwood: Of course. That's why I'm sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips. Everything about you reminds me of you...except you. How do you account for that? If she figures that one out she's good.

Driftwood: It's all right, tha-that's in every contract. Tha-that's what they call a sanity clause.
Fiorello (Chico): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ... you can't fool me. There ain't no sanity clause.

Otis B. Driftwood: That can't be my shirt, my shirt doesn't snore.
Fiorello: Shh! Don't wake him up. He's got insomnia, he's trying to sleep it off.

Otis B. Driftwood: You didn't happen to see my suit in there, did you?
Fiorello: Yeah, it was taking up too much room, so we sold it.
Otis B. Driftwood: Did you get anything for it?
Fiorello: Uh... dollar forty.
Otis B. Driftwood: That's my suit all right.

Lassparri: Never in my life have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me.
Otis B. Driftwood: Well, watermelons are out of season.

Otis B. Driftwood: Have you got any milk-fed chickens?
Waiter: Yes, sir.
Otis B. Driftwood: Well, squeeze the milk out of one and bring me a glass.

Henderson: You live here all alone?
Otis B. Driftwood: Yes. Just me and my memories. I'm practically a hermit.
Henderson: Oh. A hermit. I notice the table's set for four.
Otis B. Driftwood: That's nothing - my alarm clock is set for eight. That doesn't prove a thing.

Henderson: Am I crazy or are there only two beds in here?
Otis B. Driftwood: Now which question do you want me to answer first Henderson?

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Trivia - A Night at the Opera - Trivia & Fun Facts About A NIGHT AT THE OPERA

A Night at the Opera was the first Marx Brothers film without Zeppo. Feeling his talent was being wasted playing the bland straight man in their first five movies, he left the group shortly after the debacle of Duck Soup (1933). When Groucho, Harpo and Chico first met with Irving Thalberg to discuss working at MGM, the producer asked if three brothers would cost less than four. "Don't be silly," Groucho shot back. "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much." Zeppo went on to become a very successful agent. As his brothers' representative, he negotiated the deal to buy the rights to the Broadway hit Room Service, which the Marxes made into a picture in 1938. His second wife, Barbara, from whom he was divorced in 1972, later married Frank Sinatra. Something of a mechanical wiz, he patented in 1969 a wristwatch for cardiac patients, from which an alarm would sound if the wearer went into cardiac arrest. His company, Marman Products, produced clamping devices that were used in the first atomic bomb raids over Japan in 1945. The perennial Marx Brothers leading lady - and the object of Groucho's flirtations and insults - Margaret Dumont was very much like the character she played in A Night at the Opera, Mrs. Claypool, and in seven other Marx films. Morrie Ryskind, co-author of three Marx movies, including this one, said she was a society widow in need of a job, so she went on the stage. Although she had great success in Marx Brothers' shows and, later, movies, she claimed never to quite get what was going on. Groucho once said she was "always the stuffy, dignified matron. She took everything seriously. She would say to me: 'Julie [his real name], why are they laughing?'" Dumont was born in Atlanta in 1889 and brought up in the home of her godfather, Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle Remus stories. Early in life, she trained for the opera. She died in 1965. Director Sam Wood temporarily replaced the ill Victor Fleming (himself a replacement for George Cukor) during the making of Gone with the Wind (1939). Allan Jones was Jeanette MacDonald's first choice to be her co-star in Naughty Marietta (1935), but because he was tied up with this picture, she made the movie with Nelson Eddy, the first of their eight movies together. Jones is the father of the singer Jack Jones, popular in the 1960s. Kitty Carlisle married Moss Hart, frequent collaborator of George S. Kaufman, who co-wrote this script. Although an accomplished singer, she is best known as a panelist on a number of TV game shows of the 1950s and 60s, including To Tell the Truth and I've Got a Secret. She made only four movies after A Night at the Opera; the most recent is Six Degrees of Separation (1993). FUN QUOTES FROM A NIGHT AT THE OPERA Driftwood (Groucho): I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there's no point in bringing the Civil War into this. Driftwood: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie. Driftwood: Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor. Mrs. Claypool: I've been sitting right here since 7:00. Driftwood: Yes, with your back to me. When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay. Driftwood: That woman? Do you know why I sat with her? Because she reminded me of you. Mrs. Claypool: Really. Driftwood: Of course. That's why I'm sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips. Everything about you reminds me of you...except you. How do you account for that? If she figures that one out she's good. Driftwood: It's all right, tha-that's in every contract. Tha-that's what they call a sanity clause. Fiorello (Chico): Ha ha ha ha ha ha ... you can't fool me. There ain't no sanity clause. Otis B. Driftwood: That can't be my shirt, my shirt doesn't snore. Fiorello: Shh! Don't wake him up. He's got insomnia, he's trying to sleep it off. Otis B. Driftwood: You didn't happen to see my suit in there, did you? Fiorello: Yeah, it was taking up too much room, so we sold it. Otis B. Driftwood: Did you get anything for it? Fiorello: Uh... dollar forty. Otis B. Driftwood: That's my suit all right. Lassparri: Never in my life have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me. Otis B. Driftwood: Well, watermelons are out of season. Otis B. Driftwood: Have you got any milk-fed chickens? Waiter: Yes, sir. Otis B. Driftwood: Well, squeeze the milk out of one and bring me a glass. Henderson: You live here all alone? Otis B. Driftwood: Yes. Just me and my memories. I'm practically a hermit. Henderson: Oh. A hermit. I notice the table's set for four. Otis B. Driftwood: That's nothing - my alarm clock is set for eight. That doesn't prove a thing. Henderson: Am I crazy or are there only two beds in here? Otis B. Driftwood: Now which question do you want me to answer first Henderson? Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - A Night at the Opera


The story behind A Night at the Opera is very much the story of its script. Once Irving Thalberg and the Marx Brothers agreed to an approach to the movie, the process of developing the final script was a long one involving many people. The first writer to tackle it was James McGuinness, a former sportswriter and eventual head of the MGM story department, who had penned Tarzan and His Mate (1934). He concocted a plot built around Harpo as the world's greatest tenor, who never sings or speaks throughout the film. Thalberg rejected this idea and, at Groucho's insistence, brought in noted songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, who had contributed to the scripts of the Marx Brothers' earlier films Duck Soup (1933) and Horse Feathers (1932) and to their hit play Animal Crackers, made into a movie in 1930.

Some sources say Kalmar and Ruby were the creators of the next phase of the story; others credit George Seaton and Robert Pirosh, two relatively unknown writers Groucho considered "unspoiled" neophytes. Whoever it was, the new story was based on an old Broadway legend and popular backstage tale that would cast Groucho as a producer plotting to stage the worst opera in history so that the show would close quickly. The backers he had soaked for ten times the production costs would assume they had lost their money, and Groucho could escape to South America with the sizable profits. But his plans are thwarted when the opera becomes a huge hit and he is left owing ten times what the show actually brings in.

Groucho loved the idea; Thalberg nixed it. He explained they didn't want a funny story but a good, simple plot that the Marx Brothers could use as a springboard for their comic ideas. So the bogus play idea was shelved - and resurfaced more than 30 years later as the Mel Brooks film The Producers (1968). (And that film has now been turned into a stage production that is currently the biggest runaway blockbuster on Broadway in years.) The only remaining elements of Kalmar and Ruby's contribution were the character names of Groucho as Otis B. Driftwood and Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool. As for Seaton and Pirosh, they got their break as the scripters of the Marxes' follow-up movie, A Day at the Races (1937).

Finally, the Marx Brothers and Thalberg agreed on established playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, two of the creators of the play Animal Crackers and the writers of the first Marx Brothers movie The Cocoanuts (1929). When they had finished their draft, Thalberg brought in Jack Benny's top gagman, the 300-pound writer Al Boasberg. He punched up the jokes and wrote the famous stateroom scene, which almost didn't happen thanks to Thalberg's constant pressure on the writer. Tired of repeated calls asking for the material, Boasberg told Thalberg the scene was ready and to come to his office to pick it up. Thalberg and the Marx Brothers arrived to find no Boasberg and no sign of the script. They looked everywhere and were about to give up when Groucho happened to glance up. There he spied the scene, cut into ribbons and nailed to the ceiling. According to Groucho, it took them hours to piece it together.

Later, Thalberg hit on the idea of having Groucho and the boys try the material out in front of live audiences before committing a minute of it to film. The Marxes took five scenes on a road-show tour of Seattle, Salt Lake City, Portland and Santa Barbara. An article in The Reader's Digest detailed the process: "When the patrons failed to laugh at a gag, the line came out. When they laughed late, the line was sharpened to take effect more quickly. When they laughed mildly, the line was sent back to the workshop. When they roared, the line was okayed for the film version." Ryskind and Boasberg sat in the audience at every performance (four times a day) making notes and timing audience reactions. Later, when director Sam Wood would try to change the pace or timing of a scene or bit, the writers would remind him that X number of seconds had to be left for laughter. That's why in the film there are what seem to be inexplicable pauses between lines - the performers are holding for the timed response.

by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - A Night at the Opera

The story behind A Night at the Opera is very much the story of its script. Once Irving Thalberg and the Marx Brothers agreed to an approach to the movie, the process of developing the final script was a long one involving many people. The first writer to tackle it was James McGuinness, a former sportswriter and eventual head of the MGM story department, who had penned Tarzan and His Mate (1934). He concocted a plot built around Harpo as the world's greatest tenor, who never sings or speaks throughout the film. Thalberg rejected this idea and, at Groucho's insistence, brought in noted songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, who had contributed to the scripts of the Marx Brothers' earlier films Duck Soup (1933) and Horse Feathers (1932) and to their hit play Animal Crackers, made into a movie in 1930. Some sources say Kalmar and Ruby were the creators of the next phase of the story; others credit George Seaton and Robert Pirosh, two relatively unknown writers Groucho considered "unspoiled" neophytes. Whoever it was, the new story was based on an old Broadway legend and popular backstage tale that would cast Groucho as a producer plotting to stage the worst opera in history so that the show would close quickly. The backers he had soaked for ten times the production costs would assume they had lost their money, and Groucho could escape to South America with the sizable profits. But his plans are thwarted when the opera becomes a huge hit and he is left owing ten times what the show actually brings in. Groucho loved the idea; Thalberg nixed it. He explained they didn't want a funny story but a good, simple plot that the Marx Brothers could use as a springboard for their comic ideas. So the bogus play idea was shelved - and resurfaced more than 30 years later as the Mel Brooks film The Producers (1968). (And that film has now been turned into a stage production that is currently the biggest runaway blockbuster on Broadway in years.) The only remaining elements of Kalmar and Ruby's contribution were the character names of Groucho as Otis B. Driftwood and Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool. As for Seaton and Pirosh, they got their break as the scripters of the Marxes' follow-up movie, A Day at the Races (1937). Finally, the Marx Brothers and Thalberg agreed on established playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, two of the creators of the play Animal Crackers and the writers of the first Marx Brothers movie The Cocoanuts (1929). When they had finished their draft, Thalberg brought in Jack Benny's top gagman, the 300-pound writer Al Boasberg. He punched up the jokes and wrote the famous stateroom scene, which almost didn't happen thanks to Thalberg's constant pressure on the writer. Tired of repeated calls asking for the material, Boasberg told Thalberg the scene was ready and to come to his office to pick it up. Thalberg and the Marx Brothers arrived to find no Boasberg and no sign of the script. They looked everywhere and were about to give up when Groucho happened to glance up. There he spied the scene, cut into ribbons and nailed to the ceiling. According to Groucho, it took them hours to piece it together. Later, Thalberg hit on the idea of having Groucho and the boys try the material out in front of live audiences before committing a minute of it to film. The Marxes took five scenes on a road-show tour of Seattle, Salt Lake City, Portland and Santa Barbara. An article in The Reader's Digest detailed the process: "When the patrons failed to laugh at a gag, the line came out. When they laughed late, the line was sharpened to take effect more quickly. When they laughed mildly, the line was sent back to the workshop. When they roared, the line was okayed for the film version." Ryskind and Boasberg sat in the audience at every performance (four times a day) making notes and timing audience reactions. Later, when director Sam Wood would try to change the pace or timing of a scene or bit, the writers would remind him that X number of seconds had to be left for laughter. That's why in the film there are what seem to be inexplicable pauses between lines - the performers are holding for the timed response. by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - A Night at the Opera


The Marx Brothers could be just as nutty off camera as on. A regular target of their pranks was Thalberg, who had the habit of keeping even the biggest stars waiting for appointments. Finding themselves barred from the producer's office one day, the three puffed on cigars and blew the smoke under his door until they choked him out of the room. Another time, they barricaded his door with office furniture so he couldn't get out. And once, when he left a meeting with them to attend to other business, he returned to find them sitting in front of his fireplace - nude, according to some versions of the story - roasting potatoes.

The film's director was the very serious, very conservative Sam Wood, a man who by most accounts had little or no sense of humor. Allan Jones remembered him as "a disagreeable guy, very insecure." Jones also said Wood responded to actors' questions by saying, "I don't know, I don't know. Just do it again." Wood, who was against improvisation and ad-libbing, would shoot as many as 20 takes of each scene, a method the Marx Brothers found irritating and inhibiting. Jones believed he shot so many takes because he wasn't really sure which was the best until he looked at the day's work.

Sam Wood's stuffiness made him the perfect Marx target. The director had an ulcer, so he started each day with a big glass of milk. The brothers began to have it delivered to him in a baby bottle - a joke Wood never got. He also imposed a fine for being late to the set, which Groucho was in favor of at first. But Chico and Harpo nailed their brother's garage door shut, making him the first to pay the $50 penalty. Then the three turned the penalty into a game, betting on who would be the next to be fined. Wood eventually abandoned the idea.

Despite all the games and pranks, Kitty Carlisle said the atmosphere on the set was "deadly earnest." She recalled how Groucho would come up to her from time to time, try out a line, and ask, "Is this funny?" If she said "no," he would "go away absolutely crushed and try it out on everyone else in the cast." On the other hand, Chico, she said, was always off in a back room playing cards. And Harpo would work very diligently until about 11 a.m. and then plop himself down on the nearest piece of furniture and begin yelling, "Lunchie! Lunchie!"

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - A Night at the Opera

The Marx Brothers could be just as nutty off camera as on. A regular target of their pranks was Thalberg, who had the habit of keeping even the biggest stars waiting for appointments. Finding themselves barred from the producer's office one day, the three puffed on cigars and blew the smoke under his door until they choked him out of the room. Another time, they barricaded his door with office furniture so he couldn't get out. And once, when he left a meeting with them to attend to other business, he returned to find them sitting in front of his fireplace - nude, according to some versions of the story - roasting potatoes. The film's director was the very serious, very conservative Sam Wood, a man who by most accounts had little or no sense of humor. Allan Jones remembered him as "a disagreeable guy, very insecure." Jones also said Wood responded to actors' questions by saying, "I don't know, I don't know. Just do it again." Wood, who was against improvisation and ad-libbing, would shoot as many as 20 takes of each scene, a method the Marx Brothers found irritating and inhibiting. Jones believed he shot so many takes because he wasn't really sure which was the best until he looked at the day's work. Sam Wood's stuffiness made him the perfect Marx target. The director had an ulcer, so he started each day with a big glass of milk. The brothers began to have it delivered to him in a baby bottle - a joke Wood never got. He also imposed a fine for being late to the set, which Groucho was in favor of at first. But Chico and Harpo nailed their brother's garage door shut, making him the first to pay the $50 penalty. Then the three turned the penalty into a game, betting on who would be the next to be fined. Wood eventually abandoned the idea. Despite all the games and pranks, Kitty Carlisle said the atmosphere on the set was "deadly earnest." She recalled how Groucho would come up to her from time to time, try out a line, and ask, "Is this funny?" If she said "no," he would "go away absolutely crushed and try it out on everyone else in the cast." On the other hand, Chico, she said, was always off in a back room playing cards. And Harpo would work very diligently until about 11 a.m. and then plop himself down on the nearest piece of furniture and begin yelling, "Lunchie! Lunchie!" by Rob Nixon

A Night at the Opera


Con man and "promoter" Otis B. Driftwood is trying to woo the wealthy Mrs. Claypool into investing in an opera company by promising to secure her entry into high society. The stars of the Milan-based company are the vain, mean-spirited Rodolfo and the sweet, talented Rosa. Rosa is in love with the tenor Riccardo, who has been consigned to the chorus by his rival, Rodolfo. Riccardo's agent, Fiorello, and Rodolfo's put-upon dresser, Tomasso, also become involved in Driftwood's scheme, which brings everyone together on an ocean liner bound for New York. Once in the States, Rodolfo has both Driftwood and Rosa fired from the company. They get their revenge, however, by totally devastating the company's production of Il Trovatore, kidnapping Rodolfo, and triumphantly substituting Rosa and Riccardo in the leads.

A Night at the Opera was the first Marx Brothers film without Zeppo. Feeling his talent was being wasted playing the bland straight man in their first five movies, he left the group shortly after the debacle of Duck Soup (1933). When Groucho, Harpo and Chico first met with Irving Thalberg to discuss working at MGM, the producer asked if three brothers would cost less than four. "Don't be silly," Groucho shot back. "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much."

But despite all the games and pranks the Marx Brothers were fond of playing, Kitty Carlisle said the atmosphere on the set was "deadly earnest." She recalled how Groucho would come up to her from time to time, try out a line, and ask, "Is this funny?" If she said "no," he would "go away absolutely crushed and try it out on everyone else in the cast." On the other hand, Chico, she said, was always off in a back room playing cards. And Harpo would work very diligently until about 11 a.m. and then plop himself down on the nearest piece of furniture and begin yelling, "Lunchie! Lunchie!"

While some Marx Brothers fans prefer the earlier Paramount features like Horse Feathers (1932) to the MGM features they made, the majority opinion is that A Night at the Opera is their finest film. Here are some of the most famous Marx Brothers scenes: 15 people crowding into Groucho's tiny shipboard stateroom; Groucho ordering two hardboiled eggs from the ship steward, changing it to three each time Harpo honks his horn; Groucho and Chico agreeing on the terms of Riccardo's contract by tearing away all disputed passages until they're left with only a scrap of paper. And despite MGM's introduction of a "kinder, gentler" Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera still contains many elements of their trademark zany, anarchic humor: Chico, Harpo and Allen Jones disguising themselves as rather strange and inexplicably bearded aviator heroes to escape the authorities; the brothers eluding a private detective by leading him on a mad chase through a hotel suite whose furniture they keep rearranging; and, of course, Groucho's one-liners, particularly those hurled at Margaret Dumont in what is half courtship, half character assassination.

Director: Sam Wood

Producer: Irving G. Thalberg
Screenplay: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind
Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstadt
Editor: William Levanway
Art Director: Cedric Gibbons
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont), Rosa (Kitty Carlisle), Riccardo (Allen Jones), Rodolfo (Walter Woolf King).
BW-92m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Rob Nixon

A Night at the Opera

Con man and "promoter" Otis B. Driftwood is trying to woo the wealthy Mrs. Claypool into investing in an opera company by promising to secure her entry into high society. The stars of the Milan-based company are the vain, mean-spirited Rodolfo and the sweet, talented Rosa. Rosa is in love with the tenor Riccardo, who has been consigned to the chorus by his rival, Rodolfo. Riccardo's agent, Fiorello, and Rodolfo's put-upon dresser, Tomasso, also become involved in Driftwood's scheme, which brings everyone together on an ocean liner bound for New York. Once in the States, Rodolfo has both Driftwood and Rosa fired from the company. They get their revenge, however, by totally devastating the company's production of Il Trovatore, kidnapping Rodolfo, and triumphantly substituting Rosa and Riccardo in the leads. A Night at the Opera was the first Marx Brothers film without Zeppo. Feeling his talent was being wasted playing the bland straight man in their first five movies, he left the group shortly after the debacle of Duck Soup (1933). When Groucho, Harpo and Chico first met with Irving Thalberg to discuss working at MGM, the producer asked if three brothers would cost less than four. "Don't be silly," Groucho shot back. "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much." But despite all the games and pranks the Marx Brothers were fond of playing, Kitty Carlisle said the atmosphere on the set was "deadly earnest." She recalled how Groucho would come up to her from time to time, try out a line, and ask, "Is this funny?" If she said "no," he would "go away absolutely crushed and try it out on everyone else in the cast." On the other hand, Chico, she said, was always off in a back room playing cards. And Harpo would work very diligently until about 11 a.m. and then plop himself down on the nearest piece of furniture and begin yelling, "Lunchie! Lunchie!" While some Marx Brothers fans prefer the earlier Paramount features like Horse Feathers (1932) to the MGM features they made, the majority opinion is that A Night at the Opera is their finest film. Here are some of the most famous Marx Brothers scenes: 15 people crowding into Groucho's tiny shipboard stateroom; Groucho ordering two hardboiled eggs from the ship steward, changing it to three each time Harpo honks his horn; Groucho and Chico agreeing on the terms of Riccardo's contract by tearing away all disputed passages until they're left with only a scrap of paper. And despite MGM's introduction of a "kinder, gentler" Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera still contains many elements of their trademark zany, anarchic humor: Chico, Harpo and Allen Jones disguising themselves as rather strange and inexplicably bearded aviator heroes to escape the authorities; the brothers eluding a private detective by leading him on a mad chase through a hotel suite whose furniture they keep rearranging; and, of course, Groucho's one-liners, particularly those hurled at Margaret Dumont in what is half courtship, half character assassination. Director: Sam Wood Producer: Irving G. Thalberg Screenplay: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind Cinematographer: Merritt B. Gerstadt Editor: William Levanway Art Director: Cedric Gibbons Original Music: Herbert Stothart Cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont), Rosa (Kitty Carlisle), Riccardo (Allen Jones), Rodolfo (Walter Woolf King). BW-92m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. by Rob Nixon

Critics' Corner - A Night at the Opera


Awards and Honors

A Night at the Opera was a huge hit for the Marx Brothers and MGM, and a welcome change for the comedians whose previous film, Duck Soup (1933) had tanked at the box office. The film brought in more than $3 million on a cost of just over a million - and the Marxes, thanks to an exceptionally sweet contract, owned 15 percent of the gross.

A Night at the Opera was one of the 25 films chosen in 1993 to be catalogued in the Library of Congress as a National Treasure.

The Critics' Corner: A Night at the Opera

"The loudest and funniest screen comedy of the winter season."
- The New York Times

"None of their previous films is as consistently and exhaustingly funny, or as rich in comic invention and satire."
- The New York Evening Post

"One of the most hilarious collections of bad jokes I've laughed myself nearly sick over."
- Otis Ferguson, The New Republic

"The Marx Brothers have worn reasonably well in the three decades since they burned themselves out somewhere between A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races."
- Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema (Dutton, 1968)

"A Marx Brothers movie is a series of sketches on a theme. But a Thalberg movie is a story clearly told. Not only does he lumber the Marxes with young lovers, but he organizes the adventure around a plot and assigns the boys set roles in that plot. Concomitantly, we lose the wonderfully surreal aspect of the Paramount Marxes, the jesting that is physically possible but socially improbable...What's odd about all this is that A Night at the Opera is second in their canon only to Duck Soup. (Some prefer it.) This proves that even Thalberg could not, finally, contain the boys, and that, perhaps not inadvertently, he had given them the sweetest challenge to their anarchic energy in utilizing opera as a background. Nothing is more alien to the Marxes than opera, with its piss-proud tenors and society divas. Nothing more surely deserves the Marxian treatment."
- Ethan Mordden, The Hollywood Studios (Knopf, 1988)

"It's a top budget job, opulent and meticulous, with its fair share of vices: this is the first Marx Brothers film where you really feel like strangling the romantic leads. But it has even more virtues: there's no Zeppo, the script's generally great (Kaufman and Ryskind), Dumont's completely great, and the Brothers get to perform some of their most irresistible routines - the stateroom scene and all."
- Geoff Brown, TimeOut Film Guide

"Best Marx Brothers picture to date. Abounds in laughs and side-splitting situations."
- Boxoffice Magazine

"The Marx Brothers sometimes said that this was their best film; it isn't, but it was their greatest hit. Two beautifully stuffed American targets - grand opera and high society - are left dismantled, flapping like scarecrows. (If you ever could listen to Il Trovatore with a straight face, you can never do so again.)...This comedy has its classic sequence: the stateroom scene, which is widely regarded as the funniest five minutes in screen history. It will sustain you through the dreadful duets."
- Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"Duck Soup was 70 minutes; A Night at the Opera was 92. But you could relieve yourself in the breathing spaces. Opera has the Party of the First Part and the stateroom scene, and it's clear that when that didn't work onstage it was [Irving] Thalberg who said keep it in - because the reality of the room is different on film. My friends, that is quietly brilliant....But don't kid yourself: Without this film, opera wouldn't be where it is in America."
- David Thomson, Have You Seen...?

"The last vintage Marx Brothers film...Their cheekiness, their desire and ability to stultify bourgeois decorum, and the unparalleled combination of Groucho and Chico's linguistic wit with Harpo's demoniac miming, ensure victory for the Marxes as ever."
- Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema

"The backstage finish, with Harpo doing a Tarzan on the fly ropes, contains more action than the Marxes usually go in for, but it relieves the strictly verbal comedy and provides a sock exit."
- Variety

"Fortunately not even the painfully sickening romance between Jones and Carlisle (including a quayside to ocean liner duet) can detract from the effortless majesty of the Marx Brothers' comic antics. The delirious climax sees the threesome wreck a performance of Verdi's "Il Trovatore" in a completely irreverent assault on high culture by their inimitable blend of disreputable shenanigans."
- Jamie Russell, www.bbc.co.uk

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Critics' Corner - A Night at the Opera

Awards and Honors A Night at the Opera was a huge hit for the Marx Brothers and MGM, and a welcome change for the comedians whose previous film, Duck Soup (1933) had tanked at the box office. The film brought in more than $3 million on a cost of just over a million - and the Marxes, thanks to an exceptionally sweet contract, owned 15 percent of the gross. A Night at the Opera was one of the 25 films chosen in 1993 to be catalogued in the Library of Congress as a National Treasure. The Critics' Corner: A Night at the Opera "The loudest and funniest screen comedy of the winter season." - The New York Times "None of their previous films is as consistently and exhaustingly funny, or as rich in comic invention and satire." - The New York Evening Post "One of the most hilarious collections of bad jokes I've laughed myself nearly sick over." - Otis Ferguson, The New Republic "The Marx Brothers have worn reasonably well in the three decades since they burned themselves out somewhere between A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races." - Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema (Dutton, 1968) "A Marx Brothers movie is a series of sketches on a theme. But a Thalberg movie is a story clearly told. Not only does he lumber the Marxes with young lovers, but he organizes the adventure around a plot and assigns the boys set roles in that plot. Concomitantly, we lose the wonderfully surreal aspect of the Paramount Marxes, the jesting that is physically possible but socially improbable...What's odd about all this is that A Night at the Opera is second in their canon only to Duck Soup. (Some prefer it.) This proves that even Thalberg could not, finally, contain the boys, and that, perhaps not inadvertently, he had given them the sweetest challenge to their anarchic energy in utilizing opera as a background. Nothing is more alien to the Marxes than opera, with its piss-proud tenors and society divas. Nothing more surely deserves the Marxian treatment." - Ethan Mordden, The Hollywood Studios (Knopf, 1988) "It's a top budget job, opulent and meticulous, with its fair share of vices: this is the first Marx Brothers film where you really feel like strangling the romantic leads. But it has even more virtues: there's no Zeppo, the script's generally great (Kaufman and Ryskind), Dumont's completely great, and the Brothers get to perform some of their most irresistible routines - the stateroom scene and all." - Geoff Brown, TimeOut Film Guide "Best Marx Brothers picture to date. Abounds in laughs and side-splitting situations." - Boxoffice Magazine "The Marx Brothers sometimes said that this was their best film; it isn't, but it was their greatest hit. Two beautifully stuffed American targets - grand opera and high society - are left dismantled, flapping like scarecrows. (If you ever could listen to Il Trovatore with a straight face, you can never do so again.)...This comedy has its classic sequence: the stateroom scene, which is widely regarded as the funniest five minutes in screen history. It will sustain you through the dreadful duets." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies "Duck Soup was 70 minutes; A Night at the Opera was 92. But you could relieve yourself in the breathing spaces. Opera has the Party of the First Part and the stateroom scene, and it's clear that when that didn't work onstage it was [Irving] Thalberg who said keep it in - because the reality of the room is different on film. My friends, that is quietly brilliant....But don't kid yourself: Without this film, opera wouldn't be where it is in America." - David Thomson, Have You Seen...? "The last vintage Marx Brothers film...Their cheekiness, their desire and ability to stultify bourgeois decorum, and the unparalleled combination of Groucho and Chico's linguistic wit with Harpo's demoniac miming, ensure victory for the Marxes as ever." - Peter Cowie, Eighty Years of Cinema "The backstage finish, with Harpo doing a Tarzan on the fly ropes, contains more action than the Marxes usually go in for, but it relieves the strictly verbal comedy and provides a sock exit." - Variety "Fortunately not even the painfully sickening romance between Jones and Carlisle (including a quayside to ocean liner duet) can detract from the effortless majesty of the Marx Brothers' comic antics. The delirious climax sees the threesome wreck a performance of Verdi's "Il Trovatore" in a completely irreverent assault on high culture by their inimitable blend of disreputable shenanigans." - Jamie Russell, www.bbc.co.uk Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Marx Brothers Collection (Review) - The Marx Brothers Collection on DVD


The first thing that should be said about Warner Home Video's new DVD release The Marx Brothers Collection is that the seven films in the 5-disc set do not comprise the best Marx Brothers movies. Such a set would have to include Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Animal Crackers, and Monkey Business, all of which were produced by Paramount in the early 1930s. Still, the fact that this set marks the debut DVD appearance of A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), and also comes packed with a plethora of fun extras, makes it a collection worth having. (The other titles here are Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941), and A Night in Casablanca (1946).)

What does unite these seven pictures is that they were produced by MGM. Duck Soup (1933), while regarded by many as the best Marx Brothers movie of them all (or at least tied for that distinction with A Night at the Opera), was a notable flop upon release with the public and critics alike, and Paramount decided to throw in the towel.

Chico (pronounced "Chicko," not "Cheeko") Marx, who was very social in Hollywood, played a weekly bridge game with Irving Thalberg, and he told the legendary head of MGM production that the Brothers had been dropped by Paramount. Thalberg agreed to take them on with the provision that they allow him to reshape the structures of their films, for he felt that their Paramount pictures had been too zany and silly, and not focused enough narratively. Having the Brothers create comic mischief around another story altogether involving other major actors, Thalberg decided, would allow the audience to become more emotionally invested. The three Brothers agreed, and the first two films that resulted, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were smash hits and instant comedy classics. (Zeppo, the "4th" Marx Brother, left the screen after Duck Soup to become the manager for the other three.)

Another big reason for this success was that Thalberg allowed the Marx Brothers to test the material on the road in traveling stage shows. Their first two Paramount films had been based on stage hits, and the team therefore knew from all those live performances what the perfect timing was for each joke and bit of business. Testing the new film's major sequences in the same way seemed like a wise idea, and the Marx Brothers ended up tweaking gags for every performance until they had honed them to perfection. They even timed pauses and audience laughter with a stopwatch.

Ironically, the most famous scene in the movie (and one of the most famous comedy scenes of all time, for that matter) didn't work on stage and was almost cut out entirely. This was the stateroom scene in which Groucho's room fills with an impossible number of people and things, leading to a brilliant payoff. (One exchange: a manicurist shows up and asks Groucho, "Do you want your nails long or short?" "You better make them short. It's getting kind of crowded in here.") Of course, the conceit of the scene is cinematic and difficult to convey on a stage. Thalberg astutely realized this and kept the scene in.

Another interesting tidbit is that the movie was trimmed by three minutes for a 1940s rerelease. The offending material was all the references to Italy, including an opening musical sequence that sets the stage in Rome. During WWII, the studio did not want to portray Italy in a positive light. Unfortunately, the trims were not saved, and the edited version is the one that has been around ever since.

With the success of A Night at the Opera, Thalberg immediately announced two more films and began work on A Day at the Races. It had the same kind of plot as Opera, many of the same supporting players, and it did equally well. (Horse doctor Groucho gives a horse a pill and says, "Take one of these every half mile and call me if there's any change.") Groucho, in fact, thought these two films were the Marx Brothers' best. Both were directed by Sam Wood, with whom Groucho had frequent run-ins. After one argument, Wood sighed, "You can't make an actor out of clay," to which Groucho replied, "Or a director out of Wood."

Unfortunately, Thalberg died during production of pneumonia, at age 37, and suddenly the Marx Brothers' driving force was gone. Louis B. Mayer took over supervision of the series but never gave the Marx Brothers the same level of respect and care that Thalberg had given them. Their next films were essentially B pictures, although they had some notable guest stars like Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Tony Martin. They all have their moments, especially A Night in Casablanca, but for the most part they lack the luster and magic of the first two MGM films.

Several of them also feature Margaret Dumont, in the role she was born to play, as the object of Groucho's antics. She really was in every way a member of the team, having performed with the Brothers since their Broadway days before their first movie.

Much more information is supplied by Leonard Maltin on his excellent commentary track for A Night at the Opera. The Day at the Races DVD includes commentary from Glenn Mitchell but it is comparatively sporadic and rather dry. Other extras in the 5-disc set include 4 very amusing trailers, 9 live-action shorts, 8 cartoons, 2 radio promos, 2 audio outtakes (including Tony Martin's nice rendition of "Where There's Music" from The Big Store), and a clip of Groucho's 1961 appearance on a television talk show. There are also 2 new documentaries on the Marx Brothers which feature interviews with Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and TCM's own Robert Osbourne, among others. In short, there is enough information here to satisfy the vast majority of fans, and it is presented in attractively packaged cases and nicely-designed menus. The print quality is quite good throughout.

Since these pictures were literally and painstakingly designed for large audiences and the laughs that would come from them, they do lose something when viewed alone in a living room, where the laughter between gags won't last as long as with a big audience. They're still funny, but the effect is a tad diminished. So gather a group around a large television, make some popcorn, turn off the lights, and let these movies work the way they were meant to.

For more information about The Marx Brothers Collection, visit Warner Video. To order The Marx Brothers Collection, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold

The Marx Brothers Collection (Review) - The Marx Brothers Collection on DVD

The first thing that should be said about Warner Home Video's new DVD release The Marx Brothers Collection is that the seven films in the 5-disc set do not comprise the best Marx Brothers movies. Such a set would have to include Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Animal Crackers, and Monkey Business, all of which were produced by Paramount in the early 1930s. Still, the fact that this set marks the debut DVD appearance of A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), and also comes packed with a plethora of fun extras, makes it a collection worth having. (The other titles here are Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941), and A Night in Casablanca (1946).) What does unite these seven pictures is that they were produced by MGM. Duck Soup (1933), while regarded by many as the best Marx Brothers movie of them all (or at least tied for that distinction with A Night at the Opera), was a notable flop upon release with the public and critics alike, and Paramount decided to throw in the towel. Chico (pronounced "Chicko," not "Cheeko") Marx, who was very social in Hollywood, played a weekly bridge game with Irving Thalberg, and he told the legendary head of MGM production that the Brothers had been dropped by Paramount. Thalberg agreed to take them on with the provision that they allow him to reshape the structures of their films, for he felt that their Paramount pictures had been too zany and silly, and not focused enough narratively. Having the Brothers create comic mischief around another story altogether involving other major actors, Thalberg decided, would allow the audience to become more emotionally invested. The three Brothers agreed, and the first two films that resulted, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, were smash hits and instant comedy classics. (Zeppo, the "4th" Marx Brother, left the screen after Duck Soup to become the manager for the other three.) Another big reason for this success was that Thalberg allowed the Marx Brothers to test the material on the road in traveling stage shows. Their first two Paramount films had been based on stage hits, and the team therefore knew from all those live performances what the perfect timing was for each joke and bit of business. Testing the new film's major sequences in the same way seemed like a wise idea, and the Marx Brothers ended up tweaking gags for every performance until they had honed them to perfection. They even timed pauses and audience laughter with a stopwatch. Ironically, the most famous scene in the movie (and one of the most famous comedy scenes of all time, for that matter) didn't work on stage and was almost cut out entirely. This was the stateroom scene in which Groucho's room fills with an impossible number of people and things, leading to a brilliant payoff. (One exchange: a manicurist shows up and asks Groucho, "Do you want your nails long or short?" "You better make them short. It's getting kind of crowded in here.") Of course, the conceit of the scene is cinematic and difficult to convey on a stage. Thalberg astutely realized this and kept the scene in. Another interesting tidbit is that the movie was trimmed by three minutes for a 1940s rerelease. The offending material was all the references to Italy, including an opening musical sequence that sets the stage in Rome. During WWII, the studio did not want to portray Italy in a positive light. Unfortunately, the trims were not saved, and the edited version is the one that has been around ever since. With the success of A Night at the Opera, Thalberg immediately announced two more films and began work on A Day at the Races. It had the same kind of plot as Opera, many of the same supporting players, and it did equally well. (Horse doctor Groucho gives a horse a pill and says, "Take one of these every half mile and call me if there's any change.") Groucho, in fact, thought these two films were the Marx Brothers' best. Both were directed by Sam Wood, with whom Groucho had frequent run-ins. After one argument, Wood sighed, "You can't make an actor out of clay," to which Groucho replied, "Or a director out of Wood." Unfortunately, Thalberg died during production of pneumonia, at age 37, and suddenly the Marx Brothers' driving force was gone. Louis B. Mayer took over supervision of the series but never gave the Marx Brothers the same level of respect and care that Thalberg had given them. Their next films were essentially B pictures, although they had some notable guest stars like Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Tony Martin. They all have their moments, especially A Night in Casablanca, but for the most part they lack the luster and magic of the first two MGM films. Several of them also feature Margaret Dumont, in the role she was born to play, as the object of Groucho's antics. She really was in every way a member of the team, having performed with the Brothers since their Broadway days before their first movie. Much more information is supplied by Leonard Maltin on his excellent commentary track for A Night at the Opera. The Day at the Races DVD includes commentary from Glenn Mitchell but it is comparatively sporadic and rather dry. Other extras in the 5-disc set include 4 very amusing trailers, 9 live-action shorts, 8 cartoons, 2 radio promos, 2 audio outtakes (including Tony Martin's nice rendition of "Where There's Music" from The Big Store), and a clip of Groucho's 1961 appearance on a television talk show. There are also 2 new documentaries on the Marx Brothers which feature interviews with Larry Gelbart, Carl Reiner, and TCM's own Robert Osbourne, among others. In short, there is enough information here to satisfy the vast majority of fans, and it is presented in attractively packaged cases and nicely-designed menus. The print quality is quite good throughout. Since these pictures were literally and painstakingly designed for large audiences and the laughs that would come from them, they do lose something when viewed alone in a living room, where the laughter between gags won't last as long as with a big audience. They're still funny, but the effect is a tad diminished. So gather a group around a large television, make some popcorn, turn off the lights, and let these movies work the way they were meant to. For more information about The Marx Brothers Collection, visit Warner Video. To order The Marx Brothers Collection, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there's no point in bringing the Civil War into this.
- Otis B. Driftwood
You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.
- Otis B. Driftwood
Are you sure you have everything, Otis?
- Mrs. Claypool
Well, I haven't had any complaints yet.
- Otis B. Driftwood
And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor.
- Otis B. Driftwood
I've been sitting right here since 7:00.
- Mrs. Claypool
Yes, with your back to me. When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay.
- Otis B. Driftwood

Trivia

The famous "stateroom scene" was originally conceived as a way of getting a cheap laugh by having Groucho Marx, crowded out of his room, changing his pants in the corridor.

The first storyline for A Night at the Opera was about Groucho as an producer of an opera. That story was dropped but appeared many times in Hollywood as a story idea - until Mel Brooks made Producers, The (1968) and got an Academy Award.

In the scene where Harpo, Chico and Riccardo are impersonating the three aviators in front of the mayor, Groucho turns around to speak to them in a "foreign language." What is actually being said is a direct response to the accusations of imposters, only the audio track is played backwards. The first time Groucho actually says, "Did you hear what he said? He said you were frauds and imposters!" which is then followed by Chico and Riccardo protesting loudly, "How can he say a thing like that," "This is ridiculous," and other such comments.

The opera performed as the movie's climax is Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore.

Sam Wood, freshman Marx Brothers director in this film, was a perfectionist. The scene in which Harpo Marx hangs from the rope was filmed so many times that Harpo's hands became cut and swollen from the rope.

The first Marx Brothers film made without brother Zeppo Marx, it started a new trend of Marx Brothers movies featuring a Zeppo-like supporting character who carries the love story and sings the song.

Notes

The opening title card for the film reads, "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer presents the Marx Bros. Groucho Chico Harpo." As the Marx Bros. names are introduced, music from the Ruggerio Leoncavallo opera I Pagliacci (The Clowns) is heard on the the soundtrack. This was the first film that the Marx Bros. made without brother Zeppo, who last appeared in the 1933 Paramount film Duck Soup (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1141). Some reviews erroneously credit the assistant direction to "George" Selander, instead of Lesley Selander. An Hollywood Reporter news items noted that at one time the Marx Bros. insisted that Selander be fired because they objected to his disciplinary actions on the set. The same news item indicates that considerable reshooting was being required because a change in the picture's make-up men resulted in the "wrong" set of beards being used by the Marx. Bros. (in the sequence in which they impersonate aviators). Other news items include Robert Graves, Purnell Pratt and George Brent in the cast, however, they were not in the released film. Ann Demetrio, Egon Breecher and Kay English are also included in the cast in production news items, but their appearance in the released film cannot be confirmed.
       According to a July 9, 1935 news item, New York's Metropolitan Opera House chorus was to be recorded for selections from Pagliacci and the Giuseppe Verdi opera Il Trovatore. This was the first of the Marx Bros. films made at M-G-M. According to modern sources, M-G-M production head Irving Thalberg personally signed the brothers when their contract with Paramount was completed. Modern sources note that many of the "gags" in the film had been used by the brothers in earlier acts, and the Motion Picture Herald review notes that some of the material was "tried out in tours up and down the 'Coast' first." A Hollywood Reporter news item also mentions the tryouts of material and notes that the Marx Bros. frequently tested sketches and gags before reworking them for their films. The film's presskit notes that this film marked the first time that Harpo did not wear his characteristic red wig on screen. According to other press information, M-G-M sponsored a Marx Bros. "Look-Alike" contest simultaneous to the film's release. In its review of the film, the New York Times called the picture "The Marxist assault on grand opera." The song "Alone" was one of the most popular songs of the year, toping sales charts for several weeks after its release. The 1992 film Brain Donars credited A Night at the Opera as its source, but many of the situations and most of the dialogue of the in the earlier film was not included in the latter.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1935

Released in United States May 1990

Shown at Cannes Film Festival (Groucho Marx Tribute) May 10-21, 1990.

Released in USA on video.

Selected in 1993 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States 1935

Released in United States May 1990 (Shown at Cannes Film Festival (Groucho Marx Tribute) May 10-21, 1990.)