The Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera Blu-ray Review
For Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle), success found her on stage as she was recruited to go to the famous New York Opera Company with star Rudolofo Lassparri (Walter Wolf King). For Rosa’s lover, Riccardo (Allan Jones), success is elusive even though he’s the best young talent in a generation. Soon separated by an ocean and a career, the Marx Brothers Groucho, Chico, and Harpo could perhaps help Rosa and Riccardo stay together and save the New York Opera Company from the padded shirts that run it.
When you try to catalog the films of the Marx Brothers, I have the impression that there is a perfect anchor point in their career – before A night at the opera and after A night at the opera. Before you had the irreverent crazy comedies like Monkey affairs, Coconut, and their funniest movie – Duck soup. These are films where the plot is just a trapping to frame the brothers’ quick-witted hijinks and find a way to showcase their musical talents for a brief moment. You can walk into any of those movies with twenty minutes left and start laughing because nothing that happened before really mattered or needed to make sense. Jokes fly so fast that you’ve passed the point of being confused as to what’s going on.
After A night at the opera, you had plot and story driven gems like A day at the races, and the charming At the circus. These were films that seemed tightly scripted, less crazy, and a lot more focused on familiarity with predictable musicals than on freeing the brothers to do their thing. By this point, Zeppo had long left the group as he continued to be pushed out of comedy and cast into the thankless role of “love interest.” Without Zeppo, they relied on the talents of Allan Jones, Charles Drake and Kenny Baker to complement the musical voice talents or the beautiful lead role. With each entry, this formula gradually became obsolete, and over time Go west came out, the shtick had played pretty well. There was still some laughter in those later films, but there are good reasons why Groucho has enjoyed lasting success in television rather than cinema.
Crushed in the middle of these two career halves rests A night at the opera. The perfect combination of irreverent improvised comedy and plot-centric storytelling. The opening scene in the restaurant almost feels like a reintroduction to that comedy brand with a staunch comedy punching bag, Margaret Dumont’s Mrs. Claypool, frustratedly waiting for Groucho’s Otis B. Driftwood to arrive for dinner – as the ‘he was sitting right behind her the entire time. With Groucho easily pulling off the pointy one-liners, it also introduces the story of the picture and sets the stage for all the conflict this musical will face with Herman Gottlieb, director of the twirling mustache opera company of Sig Ruman.
After that, the rest of the band are quickly introduced with daffy Tomasso and Chico de Harpo as an intriguing Fiorello who finds a way to help our doomed opera lovers Riccardo and Rosa. As Groucho becomes the plot sheet mingling with the main cast skinning them at every turn with a quick-witted joke, Harpo and Chico once again show their talents with a range of instruments. When it comes time for a physical comedy, Harpo rises to the hilarious climax. Even Groucho’s liners can’t keep up with Harpo swinging from setting to setting!
At the strengths of this specific film, I find A night at the opera is the greatest pleasure of the public. Going back to the two halves of their careers, I find people who have never seen a Marx Brothers film have an easier time with this one. It’s not that quick with the jokes, you have a bit more time to digest the punchline and the plot helps motivate the comedy. If you are one of those people who has never seen a Marx Brothers film, start here. If you find yourself with tears streaming down your face with a deep stomach ache from laughing so hard, you can go back and enjoy all of their original classics in the Marx Brothers Collection. Hopefully Warner Archive will continue to roll out the latest movies on Blu-ray as I highly recommend A day at the races, At the circus, and One night in Casablanca is their last real good movie.
Vital Disc Statistics: Blu-ray
Warner Archive Collection inaugurates Marx Brother’s A night at the opera on Blu-ray. When pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case and loads into a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.