Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Noah Baumbach’s new film, Mistress America, is a modern farce. Gear up for it with five days of classic ones.
The Marx Brothers’ first film for MGM after a successful initial run at Paramount, A Night At The Opera may be slightly less anarchic than Animal Crackers or Duck Soup, but it remains a marvel of rat-a-tat-tat farcicality. Driven by more of a straightforward plot than many of their prior efforts, the Marx’s 1935 classic finds Groucho (in the guise of Otis B. Driftwood) convincing wealthy Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) to make an entrée into high society by investing in a New York opera company. This requires enlisting the services of an arrogant tenor (Walter Woolf King), though after persuading the star to make the journey overseas to the Big Apple on an ocean liner, Groucho finds his plan complicated by the appearance of three stowaways in his enormous trunk: an aspiring tenor (Allan Jones) who’s in love with a fellow singer (Kitty Carlisle); the man’s best friend-cum-manager (Chico); and the star’s absurd mute dresser (Harpo).
All of them, as well as a gaggle of ship hands, eventually converge in Groucho’s laughably tight quarters in A Night At The Opera’s signature stateroom scene (developed with the aid of Buster Keaton, no less), leading to squashed ridiculousness punctuated by Grouch’s famous remark, “Is it my imagination, or is it getting crowded in here?” While the inclusion of an actual narrative spine gives the Marx Brothers’ gags a bit more focus, the romantic subplot between Jones and Carlisle’s characters is something of a drag on the proceedings, halting comedic momentum at precisely those moments when the film can least afford it. Nonetheless, their amour does little to sully the many magnificent sequences of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo doing what they do best: Cracking wise while tearing up contracts until nothing is left, pratfalling about the stage and the opera-house audience, and generally acting like anti-authoritarian boobs to the consternation of their bosses, the police, and the bourgeoisie. The trio (in their first outing without Zeppo) remains a force of whirlwind insanity, and Opera reconfirms the Marx Brothers’ standing as the clown princes of cinematic comedy.
Availability: A Night At The Opera is available on DVD through Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It also can be rented or purchased through the major digital services.