Judge Patrick Naugle was shocked to learn there is no sanity clause.
"Say, I just remembered—I came back here looking for somebody. You
don't know who it is, do you?"
With Duck Soup and Animal Crackers behind them, the Marx Brothers—grumpy Groucho, speech decimator Chico, and the silent Harpo—came together for A Night at the Opera, a skewering of high society with lowbrow comedy. Filled with zippy zingers and lots of pratfalls (as well as one of the funniest piano playing sessions caught on film), A Night at the Opera is now considered one of the Marx Brothers' most beloved films. Warner Home Entertainment has finally released this classic tenor on DVD both as a single disc and in a brand new Marx Brothers box set.
Facts of the Case
Join Groucho, Harpo, and Chico, AKA The Marx Brothers, as they attempt to ruin everything and everyone in the path when they attend a coveted Night at the Opera! Groucho is Otis B. Driftwood, a business manager who takes in two bumbling friends (Harpo and Chico) to help him bring two young opera singers (Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones) to the stage. Unfortunately, standing in their way is Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Durmont), a wealthy widow willing to pay $1,000 per performance to Rodolfo Lassparri (Walter King), a pompous opera star who is long on voice and short on humility. Lassparri has a great voice but a bad attitude, and an even worse disposition toward Otis and his friends. But in the end the three bumbling buffoons will make sure the young lovers are given their due stage time—and destroy a grand old opera in the process!
Let me start off by admitting that I am not a Marx Brothers historian. In fact, I'll be dead honest: A Night at the Opera is (gasp!) the first Marx Brothers film I've ever seen. In other words, I don't have any scholarly knowledge about this famous, cinematically historical comedy team. In fact, I don't have any scholarly knowledge on anything, but that hasn't stopped DVD Verdict from letting me prattle on endlessly about bad movies that I love! Suckers!
But I digress.
A Night at the Opera is a very funny movie. So funny, in fact, that many Marx Brothers fans consider it to be one of their best movies, and I can see why! The jokes in A Night at the Opera come fast and furious, a scant few missing, most hitting their targets. Though I've grown quite fond of older, "classic" films over the years, I wasn't quite prepared for how enjoyable the Marx Brothers brand of humor ended up being.
The plot of the film seems rather inconsequential: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo must help two young lovers sing at an opera. Ho-hum. As with most comedies, the great stuff resides in the execution, not the starting point. The story is just a place for the Marx brothers to hang all their puns, zingers, pratfalls, and sarcasm.
And wow, is there a lot going on in this movie! For a moment I thought I'd seen the film before…then I realized one of my favorite underrated comedies, the 1992 Zucker produced Brain Donors, was based on A Night at the Opera's wonderfully manic screenplay (written by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Al Boasberg, and an uncredited Buster Keaton). Groucho, Harpo, and Chico zoom through the film at a record pace. Some of their most classic gags are featured here, including:
• Groucho's attempts at ordering dinner on their ocean liner, interrupted periodically by Chico and Harpo's cry for "two hard boiled eggs."
• Chico and Harpo's hysterical piano playing.
• Groucho's classic lines ("Do you rumba?" "Why, yes!" "Well, pick a rumba between one and ten.")
• Harpo's antics as he swings around the ship and finds himself dragged via tow line in the choppy wake of the vessel.
• Chico and Groucho's attempts at coming to an agreement on their contract ("The party of the first part shall be known as the party in the first part…")
• Groucho's contempt for the opposite sex, especially while on dates ("You're check, sir." "$9.40! This is an outrage! If I were you, I wouldn't pay it!")
And that, dear readers, is just scratching the surface. I truly had a grand time watching this movie. It's been quite some time since I viewed a film that made me want to immediately want to go out and buy any sequels or follow-ups to that particular film. A Night at the Opera made me want to see every Marx Brothers comedy ever made, even the ones that fans and scholars might consider lackluster. It could be that I'm gushing a bit and missing a few of the film's flaws, but for once let's just overlook that fact and agree that this is overall a hysterical, timeless comedy.
The Marxs' skewing of society is something that resonates with all of us—who among you doesn't want to let the air out of some pompous co-worker, family member, or friend's egotistic balloon? There may not be a deep meaning in A Night at the Opera (well, maybe one: if you have a long beard, don't ever go to bed on a ship where the Marxs reside), but there are plenty of laughs that will tickle the funny bones of everyone, ages 5-95.
A Night at the Opera is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Because I never saw any of the Marx Brothers films on VHS, I can't say what condition the transfers used to be in. From what I do see Warner Brothers has done a very nice job at making sure this first ever DVD version of A Night at the Opera is clear of any major defects—grain and dirt is kept to a general minimum and the black and whites are all solidly rendered. While there are a few minor imperfections in the picture, overall fans will be very happy with the way this transfer turned out.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. There isn't much to discuss regarding this sound mix—the music, dialogue and effects are well heard without any major distortion. I'm happy to see that Warner has kept the original mono sound mix for this film—it's a nice representation of what the film most likely sounded like in 1935. Also available on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Fans of the film will be thrilled to hear that Warner has included a few informative, entertaining extra features on this first ever DVD edition of A Night at the Opera. Starting the special features is a commentary track by film critic Leonard Maltin. This wonderful commentary features stories about the film's production, the Marxs' history, and lots more info on everything Chico, Groucho, and Harpo. Silent gaps are at a minimum and Maltin is an engaging commentator on the night's wacky proceedings.
Next up is "Remarks on Marx," a half-hour retrospective on the film and the Marx Brothers featuring actor Dom DeLuise, director Robert B. Weide, writer Irving Brecher, director Carl Reiner, actress Kitty Carlisle Hart, and more. This is a nice little look back at the film and its influences on popular cinema.
"Groucho Marx on 'The Hy Gardner Show'" features an aged Groucho discussing his career with interviewer Hy Gardner and telling stories about the time the Marx Brothers all stripped naked and roasted baked potatoes in the fireplace of one of MGM's head executives.
Finally there are two vintage short films ("How To Sleep" and "Sunday Night At The Trocadero") and a theatrical trailer for the film presented in 1.33:1 full frame and featuring Groucho, Harpo, and Chico comically mocking MGM's trademark lion.
A Night at the Opera is a crowning achievement for the Marx Brothers, and after almost 70 years, it's still a wonderfully entertaining film. Warner has done an excellent job at making sure this disc looks and sounds good and is packed with memorable extra features.
A Night at the Opera is definitely worth singing about.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary Track by Leonard Maltin
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