What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… A Night At The Opera (1935)

As I promised when I reviewed Animal Crackers recently, I had one more Marx Brothers film up my sleeve to review. So here we are for more fun with Groucho, Chico and Harpo in their 1935 classic comedy A Night At The Opera! Also, much like my review of Animal Crackers, I had some help and inspiration from some of my friends for this one, so I would like very much to thank Angela and Mary for their thoughts and ideas!

Coming Up Shorts! with… How To Sleep (1935)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 40 seconds)

Robert Benchley gives a lecture on how to fall asleep. Of course, all we see is how much trouble he has falling asleep. Whether it’s trying to take a hot bath (or not), or trying to drink warm milk (and raiding the fridge at the same time), or the gymnastics that occur as one tries to sleep, it’s easy to relate to for those who struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Robert Benchley, of course, does a good job with the lecture, while also trying (and failing) to successfully demonstrate what he is talking about. Good fun, anyways!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Sunday Night At The Trocadero (1937)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 20 minutes, 18 seconds)

Studio executives and various celebrities come to the Trocadero nightclub, in order to see the show being put on there. Reginald Denny is also on hand with his candid camera to get shots of the guests. It’s an interesting short, especially to see some of the various movie stars, like Robert Benchley, Frank Morgan and Groucho Marx (without his greasepaint mustache). There are a few fun songs, one or two of them with an accompanying dance routine that are entertaining. Some of the humor, particularly from Peter Lind Hayes as a uniformed messenger trying to do impressions for the execs, falls a bit flat. Honestly, the biggest problem here is that this short is very much in need of restoration, particularly for the sound, which is very hard to decipher sometimes.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Los Angeles: Wonder City Of The West (1935)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes, 32 seconds)

This short, from the TravelTalk series, focuses on Los Angeles. We see a few of the various landmarks of the city, before it focuses on a few of the movie studios. It’s fun seeing a few of the studios, especially RKO (which I haven’t seen too many pictures of). Near the end, the short stops at the Disney studios, and we even get to see Walt himself for a moment or two. I will still admit to not really being much of a fan of this series of shorts, but this one was kind of fun to see because of the movie studio aspects.

And Now For The Main Feature…

(The curtain is down.)

(Author): (Over loudspeakers) Welcome back everyone! Back by popular demand, it’s our Narrator, Host and Writer masquerading as the Marx Brothers! So heeeeere’s our Narrator again as Groucho!

(The Narrator comes walking out in that stooped manner that Groucho Marx was known for, wearing a tuxedo, horned-rimmed glasses, exaggerated eyebrows and a greasepaint mustache).

(Narrator): Thank you for that introduction, but that’s Nate Nubender to you! We do have names, you know!

(Author): (Walking onstage) So what? We’ve got more important things to do than worry about your silly names, so let’s get this show on the road! Raise the curtain!

(The curtain rises, revealing the set once again covered in Christmas decorations, including a tree, presents, lights and stockings on the fireplace. A steamer trunk is standing in the center of the stage. A banner reaches from one side to the other, with the phrase “How’s this, Lonnie Orangebottom?” printed across it.)

(Narrator): “Lonnie Orangebottom?” Whose funny name is that?

(Author): (Furious) Applebottom! That’s supposed to be “APPLEbottom!” Wait until I get my hands on those guys!

(Narrator): (Mocking the Author) What’s your problem? You said so yourself: We’ve got more important things to do than worry about your silly names!

(Author): Oh, shut up! I’m going to tell those two a thing or three when I find them (Walks offstage in a huff)

(Narrator): Well, now that I’ve got the stage to myself, it’s time for me to make a speech to introduce everything. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

(The audience pulls off their ears and throws them at the Narrator.)

(Narrator): Hmm, this audience has been watching some Mel Brooks lately… (Speaking to self) Hey, maybe I can use this… (Back to audience) Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beards!

(Members of the audience pull off their beards and throw them at the stage, filling it with facial hair.)

(Narrator): That’s the ticket! (Whistles)

(The Writer comes on wearing a very large trench coat, a battered top hat, a blonde wig, and carrying a cane with a horn on one end and a broom on the other end, while also holding a bag. He starts sweeping the hair into the bag, and, when it is filled, takes it to the steamer trunk to empty it out.)

(Narrator): While he’s doing that, let’s get started with the story! The movie opens on the streets of Italy, as various Italians break out into bits of operatic tunes —

(Host): (From offstage) Hold it! (Pokes head in from the side) Before I come out, is “Orangebutt” here?

(Narrator): No, he’s off looking for you two elsewhere.

(Host): (Speaking in a fake Italian accent) That’s-a fine! (He walks out, wearing a curly-haired wig, a Tyrolean hat and some slightly run down clothes, as the Narrator shakes his head.)

(Narrator): Well, now that you’re out here, why did you stop me from telling the story?

(Host): Because you’re confusing some of the audience, that’s why! You’re trying to start with the film’s original opening, which hasn’t been seen in a LOOONG time (and you’re too young to have seen it yourself, you’re just trying to work with the description on the Wikipedia page). When the movie was originally released in 1935, it did indeed have a longer opening, and slightly longer running time. What later transpired was that the film was cut (when exactly, I’m not sure, as I’ve seen different sources state different timeframes). Everything that was cut from the film was particular references to Italy, partly due to the Italian government’s objections that it made fun of the Italian people. All those scenes were cut from the master negative (and supposedly destroyed), so that is the way that the movie has been seen ever since (and some of those edits are fairly noticeable). There is a rumor that —

(Author): (Gradually getting louder as if getting close to the stage) Where are they?

(In a comical, cartoonish fashion, the Host and the Writer both drop what they are doing and make a beeline for the steamer trunk. They manage to get it closed just a second before the Author pokes his head onstage.)

(Author): I could have sworn I heard the Host’s voice around here. Have you seen them?

(Narrator): Hearing voices, eh? You know that’s bad for you!

(Author): Oh, you’re no help! (Goes back to looking around offstage)

(Narrator): (Walks over to the trunk and locks the Host and Writer in) Serves those two right for interrupting the story. (Walks back to center stage, while the trunk starts shaking about) Anyway, the wealthy Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) has hired Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) to help get her into society. So far, he hasn’t done much for the salary that she is paying him, but he has helped her contact opera impresario Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman, billed here as “Siegfried Rumann”) to help finance an opera show in America. Gottlieb tells her that they should sign Italian tenor Rodolpho Lassparri (Walter Woolf King), and when Driftwood hears how much they are willing to pay Lassparri, he decides to go sign Lassparri himself (and try to pocket some of the money). Meanwhile, at the theatre, Lassparri is angry with his dresser, Tomasso (Harpo Marx) –

(Host): (From inside trunk) Hey, are you going to let us out?

(Narrator): Not yet! As I was saying, Lassparri is angry with his dresser, Tomasso. He is also annoyed at leading lady Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle), who has spurned his affections in favor of one of the members of the chorus, Ricardo Barrone (Allan Jones). Ricardo’s childhood friend Fiorello (Chico Marx) returns after wandering from one job to another, and offers to be Ricardo’s manager. When Driftwood comes backstage after the opera to sign Lassparri, he ends up talking with Fiorello and accidentally signing Ricardo instead. When Gottlieb gets backstage, he rectifies Driftwood’s mistake, and so Gottlieb, Mrs. Claypool, Driftwood, Lassparri and Rosa (Lassparri’s choice of leading lady) get on a boat to head to America. Lonesome for Rosa, Ricardo stows away in Driftwood’s steamer trunk, along with Fiorello and Tomasso.

(Host): (From inside the still shaking trunk) Hey, let us out!

(Narrator): Oh, alright.

(As soon as he unlocks the trunk and they start to walk out, they hear the sounds of the Author’s returning footsteps, and hurriedly get back in the trunk. The Narrator finishes locking them in and turns around to lean on the trunk just as the Author comes back onstage.)

(Narrator): Any luck finding them?

(Author): (Frustrated) None at all. They seem to have left the building.

(Narrator): Ah, too bad. Shall we get back to the story?

(Author): Eh. I’ll let you get back to it in a moment. In the meantime, we’ve got to plan the Thanksgiving meal. The Christmas decorations may not matter much, but we do need to have the meal planned out. (Pulls phone out of pocket) What do you think we need?

(Narrator): Well, we need some food, that’s for sure.

(Author): (Frustrated and annoyed) I KNOW that. What should we get?

(Narrator): What have we got for drinks?

(Author): Well, we’ve got our regular milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, milkshakes –

(Narrator): Whoa, whoa! Let’s turn off the taps on those cows, we don’t want to milk this joke too much, as we only need the regular stuff!

(The Author writes this down on his phone as the Narrator is speaking.)

(Narrator): So let’s see, we need some turkey, with all the stuffing.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): What else?

(Narrator): Well, we need some scrambled eggs, deviled eggs and green eggs.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): (Looking up from phone) Green eggs and ham?

(Narrator): Well, you didn’t expect me to just pass by the obvious reference did you, Sam I Am?

(Author): (Shaking his head as he goes back to his phone) What else?

(Narrator): Well, how about some baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and fried potatoes.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): Any fruits or salads?

(Narrator): Have you got any grapefruit?

(Author): Yes.

(Narrator): Well, squeeze the grapes out for some wine, and that’ll be our fruit.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Short honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): And one slice of pork.

(Author): (Starting to get suspicious) Any dessert?

(Narrator): What options are there for pie?

(Author): Apple, pumpkin, cherry and raspberry.

(Narrator): Well, give them some ice cream and leave the sugary stuff in my room. No sense in giving those two enough sugar to start bouncing off the walls. We just finished repairing them from the last time.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(A series of twelve honks from inside trunk as a fog bank rolls in from right stage.)

(Narrator): I would have said make that fourteen slices of ham, but there seems to be a fog bank rolling in. Better get that food ordered so that it can get here!

(Author): Ok. (Starts walking towards right stage, mumbling to himself) How in the world a fog bank is coming in to a stage, I’ll never know… (Walks offstage)

(Narrator): (Unlocking the trunk and poking his head in) That’s just fine. We know he’s an idiot, but you do realize that every time you open your mouth, I’m taking a big chance on him not figuring it out?

(Author): (Coming back toward stage) Hey!

(The Narrator quickly closes up the trunk and turns to look towards the Author.)

(Author): I found the source of the fog! Somebody left a fan running over here by the dry ice!

(Narrator): Well, that’s fine! Why don’t you turn it off and get around to the food?

(Author): OK!

(The Author goes back off to turn off the fan. The Narrator starts turning around again to open up the trunk, but the Author pokes his head back out, forcing the Narrator to abandon that action.)

(Author): I forgot to mention, getting the turkey might be difficult, as they seem to be a bit scarce this year.

(Narrator): Don’t worry about the turkey. I’ll take care of that.

(Author): OK. But don’t forget, if you find the other two, tell them that you all need to tame your antics down. This isn’t a review about one of Paramount Marx Brothers films, where they were a lot more anarchic. After doing Duck Soup at Paramount (long considered something of a flop), they came to MGM on the urging of producer Irving Thalberg (a bridge partner of Chico’s). Under Thalberg’s direction, they became less anarchic, and more focused on helping the lead romantic couple against whatever villains they faced (as opposed to anybody who happened to cross the Marx Brothers’ paths). (Goes back offstage)

(The Narrator finally has his chance, and lets the Host and Writer out of the trunk.)

(Host): He does realize that’s why we’re picking on HIM, right? That he’s our “villain?”

(Narrator): Who know, and who cares? The fun is in getting his goat! (Turns to the Writer) Now, it’s YOUR job to get a turkey! So get going!

(The Writer salutes him with his cane, and starts marching offstage.)

(Narrator): Well, now that that’s taken care of, shall we get back to the story?

(Host): Yes, let’s.

(Narrator): As I was about to say before that mess, when the three stowaways get out and about on the ship, they are caught and locked up. With Driftwood’s help, they escape, and disguise themselves as three famous bearded aviators. However, when the ship docks, they are taken to a ceremony at city hall, where police sergeant Henderson (Robert Emmett O’Connor) realizes that they are fakes. All three escape, and stay with a reluctant Driftwood at his hotel.

(All of a sudden, the air is filled with feathers, as the Writer comes in chasing a turkey and swinging a rubber mallet. The Narrator and the Host start ducking to avoid being hit with the mallet.)

(Host): That looks like the (Ducks down) turkey from Room Service, doesn’t it?

(Narrator): (Ducks down) That certainly looks like the (Ducks down), the one, yes.

(Host): Well, it looks like we’ve got our Thanksgiving Turkey cover –

(The Writer hits the Host on the head with the mallet, knocking him out. The Writer stops chasing the turkey, which gets away, and catches the Host, putting the mallet under his head to hold him up. He pulls out a bottle of smelling salts, and waves them under the Host’s nose.)

(Narrator): That’s good. That shows that you’re sorry.

(The Host starts to wake up. Before he can finish sitting up, the Writer grabs the mallet and hits him on the head again, knocking him out.)

(Narrator): Serves him right. I’ve been meaning to get rid of him and hire a new Host, anyways. Know anybody that’s available?

(The Writer nods enthusiastically, pointing to himself.)

(Narrator): Oh, so you’re available. Well, that’s fine. Let me get a contract out for you. (Pulls a couple of contracts out and starts reading them.) Let’s see… this contract is for an E. Hu… (Looks down at the unconscious Host and sets the contract on him before looking at the next one.) Alright, and this one hasn’t been signed yet, so we’re good. Now, shall we go over it together?

(The Writer nods.)

(Narrator): Ok. The first part says that, uh… “The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part.” That sound good to you so far?

(The Writer nods. The Host starts to wake up, and the Writer hit him again with the mallet.)

(Narrator): Stay asleep, you. Now, what’s next? Oh, yes. “The party of the second part shall be known in this contract as the party of the second part.” How’s that?

(The Writer frowns, and tears off the top part of his contract.)

(Narrator): That bad, huh? Well then… (Tears off the top part of his contract) Uh… “The party of the third part shall be known in this contract -“

(The Writer grimace and tears off another part of the contract.)

(Narrator): Now, is my word worth anything to you about the next few paragraphs?

(The Writer shakes his head “no.”)

(Narrator): Well, then, let’s – (Tears off more of his contract.)

(The Writer tears off most of his contract.)

(Narrator): Not much left, is there? You must have really been on a tear last night! Is what’s left good enough for you?

(The Writer nods, and then hits the slowly reawakening Host with the mallet again.)

(Narrator): Ok, then. Why don’t you sign it?

(The Writer nods, and then signs it “I. Watt.”)

(Narrator): That’s fine. Now, I’ve got a new Host! (Starts to pocket the contract)

(The Writer notices the last paragraph, and points to it to show the Narrator.)

(Narrator): What? That? That says “If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.” That’s in every contract! That’s what’s known as the sanity clause!

(The Writer looks at him with a quizzical look on his face.)

(Narrator): Now look, you. I made this contract with you, not him (Pointing to the unconscious Host). You better not be trying to tell me that there’s no Sanity Claus.

(The Writer shakes his head “no” vigorously, and pulls a white beard and a red Santa suit out of his overcoat and puts them on. He pulls a bell out of his coat, and starts to walk around the stage ringing it.)

(Narrator): (Tears up the rest of the contract) Well, there goes that. Either he’s insane, or I am. Either way, that contract is worthless.

(The Host wakes up and holds his head.)

(Host): Ouch. What hit me?

(Narrator): Haven’t you been hitting the eggnog a little early this year?

(Host): (Still holding his head.) No, who do you think I am, Oliver Wendell Douglas?

(Narrator): (Gives the Host a side-eye.) Well, we’ll let that one pass. Anyway, getting back to the story, on the day of the opera opening, Gottlieb and Lassparri gets Driftwood and Rosa fired from the opera company. All the men decide to try and help get Rosa back her job, but when Gottlieb decides to turn them in to the police, they try to lock him up in a closet and disrupt the opera.

(Author): (Coming back onstage) Well, the food order is all taken care of — (Spies the Host and Writer) YOU.

(The Host and the Writer both duck back in the trunk. The Author hurriedly comes over to the trunk, and opens it up, only to find a squad of heavily bearded solders who start marching out as a backdrop of a war-torn countryside comes down. The Narrator’s outfit changes into a general’s uniform.)

(Author): Soldiers?!?! Where did these men come from?!?

(Narrator): From Freedonia, where else? This is what happens when you call their leader, Rufus T. Firefly an “upstart!”

(Author): Since when did I call Firefly an upstart? I don’t even know the man!

(Narrator): There! You did it again! All right men!

(The soldiers all line up at the back of the stage, while the Author stands on the prosceunium, shaking quite visibly.)

(Narrator): Ready!

(The soldiers raise their rifles.)

(Narrator): Aim!

(The soldiers take aim at the Narrator.)

(Narrator): Fire!

(The backdrop of the war-torn countryside rises back up, and the soldiers disappear before they can fire a shot. The Narrator’s costume reverts back to the tuxedo.)

(Narrator): First, the three men try to delay the opera by messing with the sheet music for the orchestra.

(Author): Wait a minute! Did I get shot? What happened to all the soldiers?

(Narrator): What soldiers?

(Author): The ones that you were ordering to shoot me!

(Narrator): (Winks at audience) I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, let me get back to the story, please.

(Author): (Still visibly shaken) Sure.

(Narrator): Once the orchestra get themselves back in order, the opera starts. So, Fiorello and Tomasso get in costume to mess around onstage, while Driftwood causes trouble in the audience.

(A new backdrop of a horse race at the Ascot Racecourse drops down, and the Narrator disappears. The Author finds himself in the center of a racetrack.)

(Author): Now what?

(The sound of thundering horses’ hooves starts to shake the ground.)

(?): Come on. Come on, Dover, come on. Come on Dover, come on.

(The sound of thundering horses’ hooves starts to increase in volume. We see a lady in a beautiful floral dress behind a fence, but her face is hidden by her hat. She raises up her head so that her face is seen, and it is revealed to be the Narrator, still looking like Groucho Marx except for the dress.)

(Narrator): (To audience) I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see me here!

(The horses come rushing by the Author, narrowly missing him.)

(Author): (frozen in terror) Yikes!

(Narrator): Come on Dover! Move your bloomin’ –

(The Ascot Racecourse backdrop rises back up, and the Narrator’s costume reverts to the tuxedo. The Author falls over in a faint.)

(Narrator): All right, boys, time to take him away!

(The Host and Writer both come walking out in medical attendants’ uniforms with a stretcher between them. They toss the Author on, and walk off.)

(Narrator): That’ll take care of him for a bit. As I was saying, the opera is a disaster with the boys’ antics, until finally, they kidnap Lassparri, forcing Gottlieb to put on Ricardo and Rosa. But will the audience accept them? And will Ricardo, Tomasso and Fiorello be able to avoid deportation?

(The Host and Writer both come back on in their normal outfits. And by “normal,” I mean their Marx Brothers costumes. The Host comes out to the Narrator, while the Writer leans against the wall.)

(Host): Finally got through the story, eh boss?

(Narrator): Yes, indeed. After Duck Soup, the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, retired to become an agent. As a result of Duck Soup not going over so well, the remaining Marxes were worried about how well audiences would respond to them. At Thalberg’s suggestion, they took their material for A Night At The Opera on the road, testing it out on audiences on the stage. When stuff didn’t work, they re-tooled it, until they got the laughs they were aiming for, and then they inserted that material into the film.

(Host): And it worked, right?

(Narrator): Yes, indeed. Audiences took to it, making the film one of the Marx Brothers’ biggest hits. Thalberg planned out their next film, A Day At The Races (and they were under contract for another film), but Thalberg died during production of A Day At The Races, resulting in the Brothers’ film career going downhill as they were stuck with a studio that didn’t know or care about what to do with them.

Personally, I’ve seen this movie many a time over the years. I will admit, I do prefer the anarchy of their earlier Paramount film, but this one still has the Marx charm. Obviously, there’s the stateroom scene, with a whole bunch of people getting crowded into a small room (and the preceding “Hardboiled Eggs” routine right before it). There’s the Marxes messing with the police sergeant at the hotel room, as they move the furniture from one room to another, confusing him completely. And the contract signing/tearing. Simply put, the Marx Brothers have some of their best material here. The romantic aspect of the plot may not be the greatest, but it’s certainly better than the stuff that they were saddled with after Thalberg’s death. A good part of that is actor and singer Allan Jones, who manages to do all right (even if he is far from the zaniness of the Brothers), with the song “Alone” being what I consider to be this film’s standout musical moment. This movie is considered a great comedy for good reason, and it’s one that I certainly have no hesitation about recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, utilizing a 4k Scan of the best surviving preservation elements. While they have scoured the world over to try to find an uncut version of the film, they’ve had no luck so far. It’s been rumored that a print containing some (but not all) of the removed bits was found in Hungary, but apparently it hasn’t been verified or something, as the Warner Archive Blu-ray still has the same cut version that everyone has been seeing. But, in its defense, the picture has been cleaned up of all dirt and debris, and certainly looks better (even with its still obvious edits) than it has in a long time, which still leaves me wanting to recommend the release (especially for those who want more of the Warner-owned films from MGM and RKO)!

(Author): (Coming back onstage) Finally, I caught up with you two! Oh, what I’m going to do to you two!

(The Author grabs the Host from center stage, and walks over to the Writer, who is still leaning against the wall.)

(Author): And just what do you think YOU’RE doing? Holding up the building?

(The Writer nods enthusiastically.)

(Author): Well, you’re coming with me!

(Host): Be careful! Don’t forget, Harpo was holding up a building in A Night In Casablanca!

(Author): Don’t give me that! The building won’t come crashing down if I remove him!

(Upon pulling the Writer away from the wall, the building, or at least the part behind the curtain, does indeed start to cave in on the Author, while the Host and Writer safely join the Narrator, who is standing on the proscenium.)

(Author): (Weakly from beneath the rubble) Ow.

(Host): (Laughing along with the Writer) I TOLD you not to remove him!

(Narrator): Well, that’ll be all for now, folks! We’ll be back again when we get the theatre repaired (or get rid of the nut who tore it down, whichever happens first)!

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Animal Crackers (1930) – Groucho Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – Harpo Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – Chico Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – The Marx Brothers – At The Circus (1939)

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