A Night at the Opera, the movie many consider to be the Marx Brothers’ masterpiece, premiered on November 15, 1935. This film, undoubtedly, has some of the Brothers’ funniest material including the stateroom scene and Groucho and Chico’s conversation about the sanity clause. The American Film Institute has ranked A Night at the Opera the 85th greatest American movie of all time.
Although the film largely concentrates on the antics of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo (this was their first movie without Zeppo), it also tells a believable story about the darker side of show business. Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones co-star as Rosa and Ricardo, two talented opera singers struggling with their careers. Ricardo can’t get anywhere because he has no money and no reputation and, although Rosa is enjoying moderate success, she is at the mercy of the dashing yet sinister tenor Rodolfo Lassparri, played by Walter Woolf King. However, a little comedic help from the Marx Brothers quickly brings the bad guys down.
Other stars in this movie include Margaret Dumont as the wealthy Mrs. Claypool and Sig Rumann as Herman Gottlieb, the opera manager. Both Dumont and Rumann starred in several other Marx Brothers movies.
This movie also showcases Chico and Harpo’s fabulous musical talents. The song Chico plays on his piano is called All I Do Is Dream of You and was later made popular by the 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain.
A Night at the Opera also gets extra points simply for including real opera music! Many movies from this period used “opera-like” music that was extremely hokey and easily forgettable. In addition to several original songs, the viewers of A Night at the Opera get to hear the beautiful voices of Carlisle and Jones singing Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Verdi’s Il Trovatore. It should be remembered that, during the 1930s, many regional and amateur opera companies did not exist. This movie brought operatic music to small towns that had probably never heard it before.
This anniversary certainly shows how much movies have changed! In addition to being a quality production with actors that actually had talent, A Night at the Opera tells a story where it is obvious who the bad guys and good guys are. However, perhaps the most important thing about A Night at the Opera’s 75th anniversary is that, even after all these years, it is still funny! Do you think the comedies of today will have the same lasting power?