A Night at the Opera, by Albert W. Vogt III

Some days, you just have to watch a Marx Brothers movie.  I will not get into the specific details as to why.  They are not important.  I will admit to being what some might call a hypocritical fan of their work.  Of course, I have seen Duck Soup (1933).  It is the entry film for their work, and a classic.  It is number sixty on the American Film Institute’s (AFI) Greatest American Films of all Time.  As a side note, I should probably go through that list and review every single one, except for the ones I have already addressed.  Getting back to the Marx Brothers, outside of Duck Soup, there are only one or two of their other films that I have seen.  I enjoy their humor immensely, and because I needed a laugh today, I put on A Night at the Opera (1935).  It is number eighty-five on the aforementioned AFI rankings, which should tell you something about the quality of the Marx Brothers’ work.

With a title like A Night at the Opera, I am sure you will be able to guess the theme.  If you are not familiar with the Marx Brothers, you will not be able to guess Groucho Marx’s well-worn schtick of playing a gold digger, this time named Otis B. Driftwood.  The money he is after belongs to another of their films’ usual suspects, Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont).  Before continuing, please know that I do not mean to come off as blasé about the movie.  It is quite good.  Anyway, Otis is not only trying to marry Mrs. Claypool for her money, but he is also her business manager.  As to the intentions, he does a poor job in his pursuit considering he is at the table of a different, younger woman in the opening scene.  They are soon joined by an opera promoter, and Otis’ nominal boss, Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman).  Herman wants her money, too, in order to bring his performers to New York for the opening of their opera season.  To convince her, we shift to a nearby opera house (this is in Italy, by the way, not that it totally matters) where we see Herman’s main attractions.  They are famous tenor Rodolfo Lasspirri (Walter Woolf King) and his equally famous soprano counterpart Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle).  Rodolfo is pompous, having the vanity of fame, whereas Rosa is kind.  The former’s attitude is on display in the mistreatment of his servant, Tomasso (Harpo Marx), who is arbitrarily beaten.  The latter’s kindness is seen in how she comforts Tomasso.  It is not Tomasso, though, for whom she has eyes, but rather an up-and-coming tenor in the chorus of their opera named Riccardo Barone (Allan Jones).  Rosa’s affections for Riccardo surprise Rodolfo, who presumes that Rosa would be attracted to the more famous singer.  Riccardo also has the support of his old friend Fiorello (Chico Marx), who, when seeing the love he has for Rosa, decides to be his manager to help the singer make it.  Fiorello does not know what he is doing, but he is willing to help because everyone loves Rosa and Riccardo, and despises Rodolfo.  For her part, Rosa is able to fend off Rodolfo’s advances, but this is complicated when Herman arrives with the news that they are to go sing in New York.  Rosa is elated by the opportunity but devastated to have to leave Riccardo behind in Italy.  The person who is going is Otis, along with his giant steam trunk.  In fact, his luggage is so big that it hides Fiorello, Riccardo, and Tomasso, making them stowaways on the liner taking them across the Atlantic.  This situation is exasperated by the tiny cabin assigned to Otis.  What follows is a hilarious scene where nearly a dozen people try to cram themselves into the room.  Eventually, the stowaways are caught, but manage to escape once they dock in the Big Apple by disguising themselves as celebrated aviators also making the voyage.  This only goes unnoticed for so long, and again they are trying to find refuge with Otis.  Meanwhile, Riccardo slips out to visit Rosa to her astonishment.  Unfortunately, Rodolfo walks in and Riccardo must defend Rosa’s honor.  The resulting punch to Rodolfo’s face by Riccardo leads to Rosa not being able to perform as planned.  Further, because Otis is caught consorting with ruffians, Mrs. Claypool threatens to take away her funding when she learns of the people with whom he is consorting.  Herman thus fires Otis.  Not willing to let this injustice stand, Fiorello, Otis, and Tomasso devise a plan to embarrass Rodolfo, get Rosa back on stage, and give Riccardo his big chance.  The long and short of this bit is an entertaining sequence with the Marx Brothers doing Marx Brothers things, highlighted by Tomosso swinging through the backstage ropes.  These actions play havoc on the background scenery.  Eventually, Harpo makes it to the fuse box and turns out all the lights.  This is the opportunity for Fiorello and Otis.  They snatch Rodolfo, and with some extra incentivizing, get Herman to agree to let Riccardo and Rosa finish the show in the lead roles.  As is probably expected, they do a great job, and they are able to land permanent roles on the company.  We close with their encore, a grateful Fiorello, Otis, and Tomasso looking on after narrowly avoiding imprisonment.

While everything the Marx Brothers do in their movies is played for laughs, their actions in A Night at the Opera are perhaps the most selfless of any of their other cinematic examples.  I know I mentioned above that Otis is a gold digger. There is really no other way of describing how he behaves.  Yet, he cares enough to see beyond himself and the good it would do in having Riccardo and Rosa together.  Rodolfo’s demeanor helps, of course.  What touches my Christian heart about what Fiorello, Otis, and Tomasso do is that they do not seek fame and fortune for themselves.  The Bible is pretty clear about the traps such things present, though our three would not think about it in such terms.  What is great about it is the simplicity of it.  They come from humble backgrounds, and are content with their station, though I am sure they would like an extra buck or two.  Christianity does not condemn notoriety or wealth.  The sin lies in how you use such things.  Whatever it is that they have, they utilize it in order to help a friend.  That is all a person could ever ask.

I enjoyed A Night at the Opera immensely, which is no shock given my love for the Marx Brothers and the fact that it is in AFI’s top 100.  I have seen a lot of turkeys lately, so I think I will stick with this list for a while.  Stay tuned for more!


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