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  • Writer's pictureRonny Duncan Studios

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


Plot Summary: Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) is convinced by her business manager, Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) that donating $200,000 to the New York Opera will get her into high society. Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman), director of the New York Opera Company, indicates that he will use the money to sign the greatest tenor in the world. Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) meets aspiring singer Ricardo (Allan Jones), who is determined to win the love of fellow performer Rosa (Kitty Carlisle). Aided by new friends Fiorello (Chico Marx) and Tomasso (Harpo Marx), Otis attempts to unite the young couple, but faces opposition from the preening star Lassparri (Walter Woolf King), who also has his sights on Rosa. Traveling from Italy to New York, Otis, Ricardo, Fiorello, and Tomasso overcome repeated hijinx to win the day.


Cast:

  • Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood

  • Harpo Marx as Tomasso

  • Chico Marx as Fiorello

  • Kitty Carlisle as Rosa Castaldi

  • Allan Jones as Ricardo Baroni

  • Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool

  • Sig Ruman as Herman Gottlieb

  • Walter Woolf King as Rodolfo Lassparri

  • Robert Emmett O'Connor as Sergeant Henderson

*Recognition:

  • The film grossed a total (domestic and foreign) of $1,815,000 and made a profit of $90,000. This would be $36,936,177.37 and $1,831,545.99 respectively.

  • It was recognized on the following AFI lists:

1998: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – Nominated

2000: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs – #12

2005: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes: Otis B. Driftwood: "It's alright, that's

in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause." Fiorello: "You can't fool me! There ain't no Sanity Claus."– Nominated

2006: AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated

2007: AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #85

  • The British rock group Queen paid homage to this film by naming one of their most famous albums after it.

  • The film's script is credited as the basis for the 1992 film Brain Donors, executive produced by David Zucker and Jerry Zucker of Airplane! and The Naked Gun fame.

  • The 1st season, 23rd episode of The Bob Newhart Show titled "Bum Voyage" features an homage to the stateroom scene where Bob and a dozen cast members are crammed into Bob and Emily's stateroom with Howard Borden announcing that "The first one that makes a Marx Brothers joke gets it!"

  • Cyndi Lauper featured a similar overcrowded stateroom gag in her music video for the song "Girls Just Want to Have Fun".

  • Sting also recreated the overcrowded stateroom gag in his music video for the 1991 song "All This Time".

  • An 8th-season episode of Seinfeld titled "The Pothole" features a homage to the stateroom scene in which the four main characters all cram into a small janitor's closet that Elaine is using to get Chinese food delivered; they all end up spilling out after Kramer spills ammonia.

Did You Know:

  • Groucho Marx said that this was his favorite among his movies.

  • Originally, before its reissue in the 1940s the movie started with a title card that places the movie in Milan, Italy, there was then a musical number in which people on the street were "passing along" the melody line of a song, as in the Maurice Chevalier vehicle Love Me Tonight (1932). The song was followed into the restaurant where Mrs. Claypool was waiting for Otis B. Driftwood. It is said the scene was cut during World War II to remove references to Italy, and unfortunately, the main negative was cut as well, so the scene is now lost. This was why the stated running time of the movie was three minutes longer than it is now.

  • Kitty Carlisle initially refused to take the part when she was asked to mime to someone else's voice. She won, and the song she performs, "Alone", later became her signature tune.

  • Harpo Marx did many of his own stunts. He later said it was a silly thing for a 47-year-old non-stuntman to have done.

  • In the scene where the three stowaways are impersonating "the three greatest aviators in the world", Driftwood seems to talk gibberish with the dignitaries. Actually it is English; if played backwards, it can be heard what they are saying ("This man is accusing you of being impostors", etc.). It was recorded normally, then reversed and dubbed over the scene in post-production.

  • When producer Irving Thalberg learned that the fourth member of The Marx Brothers, Zeppo Marx, would not be joining the brothers at MGM he asked the troupe if they would be willing to take a pay cut from their usual fee. Groucho Marx did not miss a beat when he responded "Without Zeppo we're worth twice as much."

  • This was The Marx Brothers' first film with MGM. In preparation, MGM sent them on a nationwide tour, performing potential bits live before current MGM films were shown. This opportunity for advance audience feedback is one reason this film became known as one of their best.

  • An additional scene was cut from the picture in subsequent releases, and is now considered lost. The scene occurred just after the scene in the park when Rosa tells her friends she has been fired from the opera. The Marx Brothers, Rosa, and Ricardo hop on a passing fire engine, which takes them to the opera house. After lighting his cigar in the fire engine's smokestack, Groucho Marx comments, "This is the first car I've ever been in where the cigarette lighter actually works!"

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Two star-crossed lovers unwittingly team up with three grifters to break on to the New York Opera scene.


Best Performance: Groucho Marx (Otis)/Chico Marx (Fiorello)

Best Secondary Performance: Groucho Marx (Otis)/Harpo Marx (Tomasso)

Most Charismatic Award: Groucho Marx (Otis)/Harpo Marx (Tomasso)

Best Scene:

  • Dinner at 7

  • Tomasso's Quick Changes

  • Contract Negotiation

  • The State Room

  • Musical Interludes

  • The Three Aviators

  • Hotel Switch

  • Opening Night

Favorite Scene: Contract Negotiation

Most Indelible Moment: The State Room


In Memorium:

  • Michael Wilmington, 75, American film critic (The Chicago Tribune).

  • Marilyn Bergman, 93, American Hall of Fame songwriter ("The Way We Were", "The Windmills of Your Mind", "You Don't Bring Me Flowers"), Oscar winner (1969, 1974, 1984), four Emmys, three Grammys, two Golden Globes.

  • Bob Saget, 65, American comedian, television host, (America's Funniest Home Videos) and actor (Full House, How I Met Your Mother).

  • Peter Bogdanovich, 82, American film director (The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc?, Paper Moon), actor, writer, and Hollywood historian.

  • Sidney Poitier, 94, Bahamian-American actor (In the Heat of the Night, Lilies of the Field, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), film director, and activist, Oscar winner (1963).

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Otis: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.


Otis B. Driftwood: Could he sail tomorrow?

Fiorello: You pay him enough money, he could sail yesterday.


Otis B. Driftwood: I'm practically a hermit.

Henderson: Oh. A hermit. I notice the table's set for four.

Otis B. Driftwood: That's nothing - my alarm clock is set for eight. That doesn't prove a thing.


Chico: We no take gasoline, we no take the airplane. We take steamship. And that, friends, is how we fly across the ocean.


Otis: 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.


Otis: You know the old saying: "Two's company, five's a crowd".


Henderson: Am I crazy or are there only two beds in here?

Otis B. Driftwood: Now which question do you want me to answer first, Henderson?


Mrs. Claypool: I think we'd better keep everything on a business basis.

Otis B. Driftwood: Every time I get romantic with you, you want to talk business. I don't know, there's something about me that brings out the business in every woman.


Otis B. Driftwood: It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.

Fiorello: You can't fool me! There ain't no Sanity Claus!


Mrs. Claypool: Get off that bed. What would people say?

Otis B. Driftwood: They'd probably say you're a very lucky woman.


Lassparri: Never in my life have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me.

Otis B. Driftwood: Well, watermelons are out of season.


Otis: I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we'll help you look for it.


Otis: When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay.


The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 7.5

Impact/Significance: 7.5

Novelty: 6

Classic-ness: 8.75

Rewatchability: 8.75

Audience Score: 8.85 (86% Google, 91% RT)

Total: 47.35


Remaining Questions:

  • How much do Fiorello and Otis get for their 10%?

  • Does Lassparri go back to Italy?

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