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.


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.


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”).


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.



Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Jefferson Smith bringing sense to the Senate.

“There’s a lot of fancy words in this town.”

1939 was just a good year for movies. Two beloved classics, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz (both of which we’ll get to later), were released in this year. However, there was another gem to come out of ’39: the dramatic, powerful, unabashedly patriotic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

When Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart pair up, you can’t go wrong. A subject that might seem slightly dull on the outset is instantly illuminated by the professionalism and expertise of both the director and the leading man. While by modern definition the film isn’t epic, it is certainly powerful. Brace yourself for a cliché: they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

Although politics are considerably more aggressive now than they were in ’39, the topic was just as popular and controversial in those days. Capra pulls it off with grace, and the undeniably likable Stewart just increases the appeal. There are some surprisingly profound lines concerning Washington, corruption, patriotism, and the country itself.

However, Mr. Smith is not entirely solemn and somber. There are actually some priceless comedic moments, thanks to the awkwardness of our beloved Jimmy. The chemistry between Stewart and Jean Arthur is also fantastic.

As I’ve further familiarized myself with his filmography, I find that Jimmy Stewart can display a rather wide range of emotions. In Shenandoah, he’s a crusty, disagreeable Virginia landowner, who experiences terrible loss. In The Philadelphia Story, he’s a hilarious, awkward tabloid reporter. But in Mr. Smith, he’s an idealistic small-towner who just wants his voice heard. He plays all three of these characters to perfection.


I could talk forever, but I suppose I should give you the synopsis now. Sorry.

Naive Jefferson Smith (Stewart), leader of the Boy Rangers, is appointed to the Senate on a lark by the vacillating, malleable governor of his state. He is reunited with the state’s senior senator–presidential hopeful and Smith’s childhood hero, Senator Joseph Paine (Claude Rains). In Washington, however, Smith’s expectations are soon depleted by the harsh reality of politics. He discovers many of the shortcomings of the political process as his earnest goal of a national boys’ camp leads to a conflict with the hateful state political boss, Jim Taylor. Taylor first tries to corrupt Smith and then later attempts to destroy Smith with a scandal.


Check this out:

Directed by Frank Capra;

Written by Lewis R. Foster (story), and Sydney Buchman (screenplay);

Starring James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, Jean Arthur as Clarissa Saunders, and Claude Rains as Joseph Paine;

Produced by Frank Capra;

Music by Dimitri Tiomkin.

*sigh* Awesome.


Apparently, real politicians are rather offended by this movie. Hee hee. A Montana senator walked out of the screening he attended in disgust. It’s also been bitterly denounced by Washington insiders because of its accusations of corruption.

With this in mind, it was banned in most of Europe’s fascist countries, because it “showed that democracy works”.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was Jean Arthur’s favorite film of her own.

Jimmy Stewart knew that the role of Jefferson Smith was the role of a lifetime. Therefore, he worked extremely hard, waking up at five o’clock and driving himself to the studio. According to costar Jean Arthur, “He was so terrified something was going to happen to him, he wouldn’t go faster.”

Jean Arthur did not get along with Jimmy Stewart very well during filming, because she wanted Gary Cooper (who costarred with her in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) in the role of Jefferson Smith.

Something I just noticed: neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties are ever mentioned in the film.

Jean Arthur’s left side was considered her best side, so the sets had to be constructed in a way that whenever she entered, she would be photographed on that side. Just like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca! For the record, I like Ingrid Bergman’s best side best.


City Lights (1931)

Chaplin as the Tramp

The beautiful end scene.

I didn’t necessarily want to start with a theme… But, why not? It’s Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air.

I was carefully pondering what the perfect first recommendation could be. I had an innumerable amount of films from which to choose. But, then it hit me: Charlie Chaplin. It really is the perfect movie. I’d hate to use the phrase, “tour-de-force,” but City Lights really does have everything. I won’t say it’s Chaplin’s best film, but it certainly is a work of art. Although it is, at heart (pun intended), a romance, there are heavy doses of hysterically funny slapstick to keep the guys awake. Perfect date movie, I’d say. Enough schmooze for the girls, enough uproarious mishaps and missteps to entertain the guys.

But, really, it’s a very powerful story of truly unconditional love (what Valentine’s Day was originally all about). And it’s the perfect starter silent film. For those of you who haven’t seen a silent film, prepare to be amazed. You don’t believe someone can tell an intelligible and even compelling story without using dialogue? Watch the master at work.

Be sure to comment and tell me your opinion of the film!


Chaplin plays the iconic, clueless Tramp, who meets a beautiful blind girl who is selling flowers on the street. Because of a coincidental event (cleverly orchestrated by Chaplin) she mistakes the homeless Tramp for a wealthy duke. The Tramp, obviously, immediately falls in love with the girl. When he learns that a miraculous new operation could restore her sight, he becomes unwaveringly determined to somehow attain the needed money. In a series of absurd, hilarious events, the Tramp eventually acquires the money and gives it to the blind girl. However, sadly, his noble efforts land him in the slammer. While he’s confined, the girl goes through with the operation which is successful. She yearns to meet her benefactor, her “dream prince”. After the Tramp is released, he meets the girl once again, and in one of the most emotional, beautiful scenes in movie history, she realizes the true identity of her dream prince.


Listen to this example of supreme control:

Directed by Charles Chaplin;
Starring Charles Chaplin as A Tramp and Virginia Cherrill as A Blind Girl;
Produced by Charles Chaplin;
Music by Charles Chaplin.

I bet he had a headache or two in his day.


As you may have known, the first sound picture, The Jazz Singer, was released in 1927. Practically from that day on, silent film has been a thing of the past. Chaplin was pressured by almost everyone around him to make a sound picture. And he did… partly. City Lights has a wonderful score, composed by Chaplin himself, and he brilliantly uses sound effects to enhance the already superb comic effect.

Screen and stage giant Orson Welles said that City Lights was his favorite movie of all time.

The scene in which the initial meeting of the Tramp and the flower-girl takes place was re-shot 342 times. Chaplin, for those of you who did not know, was a bit of a perfectionist.

At one point in production, Chaplin and costar Virginia Cherrill became engaged in a spat. They were already on unfriendly terms; Chaplin had often criticized Cherrill for being unprofessional. When this argument occurred, he fired Virginia Cherrill on the spot. He auditioned Georgia Hale, who was his costar in The Gold Rush. But the film was too far in production to make a dramatic change like this. So, Cherrill agreed to return to the film–at double her original salary. Chaplin reluctantly agreed and the film was completed. Thank goodness for that.