A Night at the Opera (1935)

One of the most brilliant comic scenes of film history. Not for the claustrophobic.

“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!”

First, let me say that I am terribly sorry for taking so long to post another review. Studies interfere. I don’t want you to feel that I’ve let you down, though I know I have. I don’t expect your forgiveness. Well, I kinda do, and I expect you to keep reading. Thanks!

***

Ah, the opera. Never has the supercilious establishment been lampooned with such comic genius. One of the best comedies of the ’30s, A Night at the Opera is a 92-minute guffaw. Ingenious farce, thy name is Marx! That rhymed. Kinda.

If you’ve never seen a Marx Brothers movie, this film is a perfect place to start. I, being the novice that I am, instead started with The Big Store (an excuse to have Tony Martin croon in a movie, basically). This left a temporarily unpleasant taste in my mouth regarding the Brothers. However, watching this film was like brushing my teeth. In a metaphorical sense. It made me realize that everyone was telling the truth when they called the Brothers one of the greatest comedy teams ever, and when they said this film was one of their best.

Although the film as a whole is a riot, there are several notable bits, including the contract (“You can’t fool me… There ain’t no Sanity Clause!”), the stateroom scene (pictured above), and, of course, an opportunity for Chico (pronounced “Chick-o”) to play piano and Harpo to play, well, harp. The musical scenes with Chico and Harpo provide the calm in the middle of the storm, the order and beauty among the chaos and anarchy of their zany humor. Harpo can nearly bring tears to one’s eyes one second and the next second have one rolling on the floor with hysterical laughter. That’s the charm of the Marx Brothers.

Surprisingly, this film steers mostly clear of dated humor. I don’t necessarily mind dated humor, because I understand most of it after spending so much time absorbing the entertainment of that time. But except for a reference to the Dionne Quintuplets, and the mention of *gasp* phonograph records, there’s not very much at all that would confuse a modern viewer. This is just one of the reasons it’s lasted so long.

Something else that made the movie so endlessly enjoyable for me was Groucho’s shtick. Even in less funny films such as The Big Store and Go West, Groucho was one of the quickest-witted comedians in the history of movies. In A Night at the Opera, he utters several quick lines that scarcely slipped by the Hays Code (which had begun to be enforced in 1934). He had an uncanny knack for a beautifully timed punchline or sarcastic comment. For instance, while filming A Night at the Opera, director Sam Wood was exasperated after trying to get Groucho to read a line “just right”. To express his displeasure, he lamented, “I guess you just can’t make an actor out of clay.” Groucho flung back, “Nor a director out of Wood.”

Harpo Marx was the antithesis to his brother Groucho; he was funny without words, without witty repartee. He was one of the kings of physical comedy, saying all he wished to say with his over-the-top actions and his wonderful facial expressions. Chico was also consistently funny; his hilariously exaggerated Italian accent is music to my ears.

This film is, in my opinion, the best Marx Brothers film and the best ’30s comedy to start with. The humor is rapid-fire, the story is sweet, the film as a whole is exceedingly satisfying. Spend A Night at the Opera; you’ll get your money’s worth.

Summary

Impresario Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman) convinces millionairess Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to hire a tenor named Rudolfo Lassparri (Walter King) for his New York opera company. Lassparri is a truly unlikable character, what with beating his dresser, Tomasso (Harpo Marx), and trying to enchant soprano Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) who loves the handsome underdog, Ricardo (Allan Jones). After Tomasso, and Tomasso’s old friend Fiorello (Chico Marx) learn that Rosa is bound for America without Ricardo, the two devise a plan. They take Ricardo, and the three of them stow away in Driftwood’s trunk. In America, everyone is set to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore–except Lassparri. He doesn’t want to perform if Rosa won’t accept his advances. The Marx Brothers then cause chaos after the show has begun, and the only way it can be saved is if Ricardo will take Lassparri’s place.

Information

Directed by Sam Wood;

Written by James Kevin McGuinness (from a story by), George S. Kaufman (screenplay), Morrie Ryskind (screenplay), Buster Keaton (uncredited);

Starring Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood, Chico Marx as Fiorello, Harpo Marx as Tomasso, Allan Jones as Ricardo, Kitty Carlisle as Rosa, Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool, Sig Ruman as Herman Gottlieb, and Walter King as Rudolfo Lassparri;

Produced by Irving Thalberg (executive producer, uncredited);

Music by Herbert Stothart (music score by), Ruggero Leoncavallo (“Pagliacci”), and Giuseppe Verdi (“Il Trovatore”).

Facts

Harpo did most of his own stunts.

A Night at the Opera is the Brothers’ first film with MGM.

It is also their first movie without other brother Zeppo Marx.

In 2007, A Night at the Opera was named by the American Film Institute as the 85th Greatest American Film of All Time.

Kitty Carlisle originally refused to accept the part when she learned her voice would not be used in the film. She won the argument, and “Alone” (the song she sings in the film) later became her signature song.

Executive producer Irving Thalberg was notorious for calling people to meetings and then leaving them waiting for hours. One day, during pre-production, an instant of just this sort happened to the Marx Brothers. They sat in the secretary’s office for several hours, before finally deciding to blockade Thalberg’s door with as much furniture as they could get their hands on. He never delayed a meeting with the Brothers again. However, he would often interrupt their meetings to meet with someone else. One time, after having done this, Thalberg returned to his office to find the Marx Brothers in his office, sitting around the fireplace completely naked, roasting potatoes on sticks. Thalberg sat down, had a potato, and never interrupted another meeting with the Marx Brothers.

-luke

Farewell, Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

The legend, the mystery.

We must very reluctantly bid farewell to a true movie legend, Tony Curtis. He passed away today in his Las Vegas home on Thursday, at the age of 85.

With a career spanning a full seven decades, Curtis made his indelible mark on Hollywood history. He was the definition of playboy and he ultimately redefined suavity. He played dramatic and comedic roles with equal mastery in such films as Some Like It Hot (1959), Spartacus (1960), and Sex and the Single Girl (1964), and The Great Race (1965).  Read another farewell message and Curtis’s GQ interview on The Kitty Packard Pictorial.

Farewell, Mr. Curtis. We will always remember you.

-luke

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

A New Blog!

I have recently created a new blog! It can be found at timeforlevity.wordpress.com. Enjoy!

(P.S. A review of a brilliant comedy shall soon be posted. Sit tight!)

-luke

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm  Comments (2)  

Swimming Pools! Movie Stars!

TRANSLATION: “Long lines! Jerks!”

I’ve come to the conclusion that all aspiring actors are nincompoops. Besides me, of course.

On Saturday, August 21st, I had my first true encounter with showbiz. The local news anchors practically screamed, “OPEN CASTING CALL FOR HOLLYWOOD MOVIE DOWNTOWN!” which, to any town in Oklahoma, is the equivalent of hosting the Olympics. I took one look at the headline, and decided that this was my big break. As did 2,000 other people, darn them. I didn’t even know our population consisted of that many jerks.

I’m not bitter. I swear.

For some odd reason, I expect to be the only one that hears about these types of shindigs. So, I arrived at the swanky (by Oklahoma standards) hotel at 10:30, wearing my brand-new pinstripe suit. An older man stood just in front of me. He gestured towards the far-reaching line of aspiring movie stars. “Line to the bathroom,” he chuckled.

The line stretched from the front of the hotel, around the side, into the parking garage, and finally inside the hotel. The sun beat down, but soon after my jacket was sufficiently sodden, we made it inside. “It won’t be long now!” was the thought that continued to play in my mind. For about six hours.

Here’s a fun fact! Did you know it’s possible to stand for a mile?

The only information anyone gave anyone about this film is the ambiguous synopsis: “A family-oriented romantic drama set in Oklahoma.” Oh, and there’s the tidbit that fishing is critical to the plot. Don’t ask me.

I think the reason that there are so few casting calls in Oklahoma is that no one in Hollywood is quite sure whether or not this territory has been claimed yet.

There were rumors that Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz, and Jennifer Garner would be starring. How do I know this? Well, believe it or not (on second thought, just believe it), I have been in talks to replace Ben as Rachel McAdams’s love interest. Rachel W. and Jen have also become cognizant of my magnetism, but theirs is simply a passing fancy. Rachel M. and I are true.

You may be asking, “If you’re so tight with Rachel McAdams, why did you stand in line for six hours with the lowest level of beginners at an open casting call?” Stop ruining the fun, will you?

Anyway, back to my story. So, after I had done my best impression of a stationary Vanna White, I finally reached the “magic room”. As the name implies, this room is where the magic happens. Sign a form! Take a picture! Leave! SHAZAAM!

The signing of the form probably took longer than the entire waiting progress. Would you be willing to cut your hair? Um…

What is your blood type? What is your social security number? What do you do when no one’s looking? Hmm?

Then came the dreaded clothes size questions. I have about the worst memory of anyone I can remember, so asking me to recite dimensions of my trousers… Anyway, after giving the bystanders a free show, I moved to the next table.

You know what number I was? 949.

I wasn’t discouraged! Nay, I was all the more empowered! Out of these 2,000-something inexperienced hopefuls, I am the breakout star!

No, really, I was kinda disheartened. They took a few pictures, and I practically whispered a quip about how I had promised my mother I’d never have a front-on and profile picture taken of me solely for identification purposes. I was the only one to hear it. Or laugh at it.

I walked out of the Magic Room with a heavy heart, until I was stopped by official-looking people in official-looking clothes. They spoke to me in official-sounding voices.

“Luke, is it?”

“Add a ‘Sir’ and you’ve got my nom de plume! What can I do ya for?”

Unlike me, they had the capability to refrain from making any racy joke regarding the latter sentence.

“Your performance in the Magic Room was shocking, but artistic. It had a certain defiant flair, just the kind of flair we’re looking for. You’re in.”

Instead of getting me arrested, indecent exposure got me a part. Coming soon to a theater near you.

-luke

Published in: on August 24, 2010 at 8:43 pm  Comments (7)  

Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock!

Macabre humor, thy name is Hitchcock!

It’s here! Today is the 111th birthday of the Master of Suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock.

Perhaps the most influential and talented of all the Hollywood directors, Hitch got his start in silent films in England. His first completed directorial project was The Pleasure Garden (1925), and he went on to enjoy nearly fifty years of legendary status. He directed some of Hollywood’s (and England’s) greatest stars, including Cary Grant, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, John Gielgud, Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Montgomery Clift, Karl Malden, Ray Milland, Paul Newman, and Sean Connery. Wow.

His films are some of the most visually and mentally arresting films ever to come out of Hollywood. After making a small splash with his 1927 silent film, The Lodger, and fairly big splashes with Blackmail (1929), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), and The 39 Steps (1935), he made his first American film, Rebecca (1940), with famous Hollywood producer David O. Selznick.

Many modern directors (including Martin Scorsese, M. Night Shyamalan, and Guillermo del Toro, just to name a few) give Hitchcock generous doses of credit for their inspiration. Hitch’s phenomenal films have thrilled (and continue to thrill) generations of viewers. Here was a man who constructed classy suspense. Check out my reviews of Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960). I promise to have many more Hitchcock reviews soon.

Happy birthday, Sir Alfred, and rest in peace.

-luke

Published in: on August 13, 2010 at 6:10 pm  Comments (6)