A Night at the Opera (1935)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Although some purists hold out for Duck Soup (1933), many Marx Brothers fans consider A Night at the Opera the team's best film. Immediately after the credits roll, we are introduced to Groucho Marx as penny-ante promoter Otis B. Driftwood. After a sumptuous dinner with a beautiful blonde at a fancy Milan restaurant, Driftwood tries to cadge another free meal from his wealthy patroness, Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont). The dignified dowager complains that Driftwood had promised to get her into high society, but has done nothing so far. Otis B. counters by introducing Mrs. C to pompous opera entrepreneur Gottleib (Sig Rumann); all Mrs. Claypool has to do is invest several hundred thousand dollars in Gottleib's opera company, and her entree into society is in the bag. Contingent upon this plan is Driftwood's signing of Rodolfo Lassparri (Walter Woolf King), a self-important tenor. Backstage at the opera, Driftwood meets Fiorello (Chico Marx), who poses as a manager and offers to sell Driftwood the "world's greatest tenor"-not Lassparri, as Driftwood assumes, but Fiorello's pal Ricardo Baroni (Allan Jones). Instantly the two sharpsters try to draw up a contract ("The party of the first part shall hereafter be known as the party of the first part..."), which they proceed to tear up piece by piece whenever coming across a clause that displeases them (Driftwood: "That's a sanity clause"; Fiorello: "You no foola me. There ain't no Sanity Claus"). Having lost Lassparri to Gottleib, Driftwood sails back to America with Mrs. Claypool and the opera company. Gottleib arranges for Driftwood to get the tiniest, least accessible stateroom on the ship. Unpacking his trunk, Driftwood discovers that he's got to share his postage-stamp quarters with Ricardo Baroni, who has stowed away because he's in love with the opera troupe's leading lady Rosa (Kitty Carlisle). Also hiding out in Driftwood's trunk is Fiorello, who's come along because he's still Ricardo's manager, and the wacky Tomasso (Harpo Marx), Lassparri's former dresser, who has come along for the hell of it. Anxious to arrange a tete-a-tete with Mrs. Claypool in his stateroom, Otis finds out that his unwelcome guests won't leave until they're fed ("Do you have any stewed prunes? Well, give them some black coffee, that'll sober 'em up"). After ordering a huge dinner, Otis and his new friends are crowded even farther by a steady stream of intruders, including an engineer and his assistant, a cleaning lady, a manicurist, a girl looking for her Aunt Minnie, and a dozen waiters. The celebrated "stateroom scene" comes to a rollicking conclusion when Mrs. Claypool has the misfortune of opening the door. On the last night of the voyage, Fiorello, Tomasso and Ricardo sneak out of their stateroom to enjoy an impromptu ethnic festival in steerage. Ricardo sings, Fiorello "shoots the keys" on the piano, and Tomasso plays the film's theme song Alone on the harp. The stowaways are caught and thrown in the brig, but with Driftwood's help they escape. To avoid recapture, the stowaways don heavy beards and pose as three famed Russian aviators. After making a shambles of a public reception, the three reprobates hide out in Driftwood's New York apartment, where everyone conspires to drive an investigating detective (Robert Emmet O'Connor) crazy. Driftwood is fired from the opera company for associating with the stowaways, while Rosa is dismissed for refusing Lassparri's affections. In order to restore Rosa's job and put the deserving Ricardo in Lassparri's place during the opening performance of La Traviata, Driftwood, Fiorello and Tomasso concoct a scheme that will reduce the opera to comic chaos. The actual night at the opera in A Night at the Opera must be seen to be believed, but the spirit of the scene can be summed up by Gottleib's anguished cry "A battleship in Il Trovatore!" Opera was the Marx Brothers' first film for MGM, and they dearly coveted a hit after the disappointing box-office showing of their final Paramount films. With the blessing of MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, the Marxes went on the road with their brilliant writing staff (including George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and Al Boasberg) to test their comedy material before live audiences. As a result of this careful preplanning, Night at the Opera was a smash-hit gigglefest, grossing over $3 million and putting the Marxes back on top in the hearts and minds of filmgoers everywhere.
Classics , Comedy , Musical & Performing Arts , Romance
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Groucho Marx
as Otis B. Driftwood
Harpo Marx
as Tomasso
Chico Marx
as Fiorello
Allan Jones
as Riccardo Baroni
Margaret Dumont
as Mrs. Claypool
Walter Woolf King
as Lassparri
Sig Rumann
as Herman Gottlieb
Edward Keane
as Captain
Robert E. O'Connor
as Detective Henderson
Gino Corrado
as Steward
Frank Yaconelli
as Engineer
Al Bridge
as Immigration Inspector
Billy Gilbert
as Engineer's Assistant/Peasant
Samuel Marx
as Extra on Ship and at Dock
Claude Payton
as Police Captain
Rodolfo Hoyos Jr.
as Count di Luna
Olga Dane
as Azucena
James J. Wolf
as Ferrando
Jonathan Hale
as Stage Manager
Selmar Jackson
as Committee
Otto H. Fries
as Elevator Man
William Gould
as Captain of Police
Leo White
as Aviator
Jay Eaton
as Aviator
Rolfe Sedan
as Aviator
Wilbur Mack
as Committee
George Irving
as Committee
George Guhl
as Policeman
Harry Tyler
as Sign Painter
Phillips Smalley
as Committee
Selmer Jackson
as Committee
Alan Bridge
as Immigration Inspector
Harry Allen
as Doorman
Jack Lipson
as Engineer's Assistant
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Critic Reviews for A Night at the Opera

All Critics (37) | Top Critics (4)

The backstage finish, with Harpo doing a Tarzan on the fly ropes, contains more action than the Marxes usually go in for, but it relieves the strictly verbal comedy and provides a sock exit.

Full Review… | June 26, 2007
Top Critic

Never was a director more aptly named than Sam Wood: his movies are redwood forests of unrelieved monotony.

Full Review… | June 26, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The loudest and funniest screen comedy of the Winter season.

Full Review… | March 24, 2006
New York Times
Top Critic

The Brothers get to perform some of their most irresistible routines.

Full Review… | January 25, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

...Groucho's flirtation with respectability and devilish realization that it's much more rewarding to play the clown.

Full Review… | February 18, 2013

It is exciting and perfect; a sign that they have at last learned how to use every resource which Hollywood can offer them; and the simplest reason I can find for calling them funny beyond the power of words to spoil the fun.

Full Review… | January 18, 2013
The Nation

Audience Reviews for A Night at the Opera


The Marx's Brothers are for sure one of the best comedians ever, and A Night At The Opera is a terrific prove of that.

Lucas Martins
Lucas Martins

Super Reviewer

I can't still completely warm up to the Marx Brothers, but I can't deny the film has some incredibly funny moments

Matheus Carvalho
Matheus Carvalho

Super Reviewer

Otis B. Driftwood is a small-time theatrical agent scamming the wealthy Mrs Claypool in a deal to sponsor a New York opera company. Meanwhile, the disreputable Fiorello and Tomasso are trying to help their friend Riccardo gain recognition as a tenor. The swindlers' plans collide during a very unorthodox production of Verdi's Il Trovatore ... This was the Marx Brothers first big-budget movie with MGM, and many cite it as their best film. It is a beautiful production by the legendary Irving G. Thalberg, with a first-rate script by the talented Broadplay playwright George S. Kaufman and some incredibly funny sequences. Personally, it's not my favourite but its a close second (my favorite would have to be Horse Feathers), purely because I think the romantic subplot between Carlisle and Jones gets in the way too much and there's not enough of the irresistible Dumont. That aside however, there is lots of wonderful music and plenty of side-splitting scenes; the pack-everyone-in-Groucho's-cabin episode, the contract-shortening sequence ("You no fool me, there is-a no Sanity Claus !"), the chase-the-beds-around-the-hotel-room bit and the total cultural destruction of that bastion of upper-class social prowess, the metropolitan opera, with Groucho throwing peanuts to the crowd and Harpo sliding pirate-style down the backdrops. A wonderfully nutty black-and-white comedy classic.

David Ladd
David Ladd

Super Reviewer

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