Wednesday, January 07, 2015
A Night at the Opera
Directed by Sam Wood and screenplay by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, and un-credited work from Al Boasberg from a story by James Kevin McGuinness, A Night at the Opera is the story of three men who create havoc at an opera house in an attempt to help a friend score with the opera’s leading lady. The film plays into the world of the opera as three men create all sorts of gags and craziness as they’re played by the Marx Brothers in their first film as a trio in Groucho, Harpo, and Chico. Also starring Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, and Margaret Dumont. A Night at the Opera is a raucous yet majestic film from Sam Wood and the Marx Brothers.
The film explores the world of opera where a business manager meets two men whose friend is a tenor singer that is in love with an opera house’s leading lady as they hope to get him to the big show in New York City. It’s a film that plays into the world of opera as this business manager tries to make it in the opera business while creating havoc around him with two men who stowaway with their singer on a cruise ship from Italy to New York. Even as they have to contend with a rich woman, an opera director, and an arrogant tenor singer as the film’s screenplay manages to create a very engaging and lively story that plays into the misadventures of three men. The script also explores the motivations of the protagonist in Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) who is trying to make it but on his own terms as well as a break way from the stuffy ideas of opera as high art.
Sam Wood’s direction definitely plays to the organized sense of chaos that is part of the Marx Brothers’ approach to comedy in terms of gags and set pieces. Yet, there’s also moments that are very intimate and touching such as a scene where Tomasso (Harpo Marx) is playing a harp piece for people on a cruise including children as Wood places the camera in a medium shot where Tomasso and the children are in the frame. There’s also moments where the gags definitely add something to the story such as the very small suite that Driftwood would stay in as it would become one of the film’s most famous sequences. It’s a sequence where a bunch of characters are stuck inside this room as there’s a lot that is happening which would lead to one of the greatest gags ever captured on film. There’s also a sequence in a hotel suite where Wood’s use of wide shots help play to the humor as it would include more gags as the film’s climax in the opera is filled with some unique camera angles and moments that capture the sense of mayhem. Overall, Wood creates a very thrilling and extremely entertaining film about men creating havoc in the world of opera.
Cinematographer Merritt B. Gerstad does excellent work with the film‘s black-and-white photography where it really comes into play for the film‘s climatic opera performance with its usage of lighting as it adds to the sense of chaos in that scene. Editor William LeVanway does fantastic work with the editing with its use of dissolves and rhythmic cuts to capture the energy of the film‘s humor. Art director Cedric Gibbons does brilliant work with the look of the small suite that Driftwood would stay in on the cruise as well as the opera scene where all of the backdrops are used for moments of hilarity. Sound editor Michael Steinore does nice work with the film‘s sound to capture the sound effects for the gags as it helps play into the film‘s humor. The film’s music by Herbert Stothart is amazing for its mixture of orchestral music and opera along with comical pieces driven by its orchestra while the original songs in the film play into the love affair between a leading lady and a young protégé of Driftwood.
The film’s superb cast includes some notable small roles from Purnell Pratt as a mayor, Robert Emmett O’Connor as a police sergeant who is a victim of Driftwood and his men’s gags, Walter Woolf King as the arrogant tenor Rodolfo Lassparri, Siegfried Rumann as Driftwood’s boss and opera director Herman Gottlieb, and Margaret Dumont in a wonderful performance as Mrs. Claypool as a rich woman Driftwood tries to woo in order to make her look dumb. Kitty Carlisle is terrific as the opera singer Rosa Cataldi who is in love with another singer as she fends off the advances of Lassparri whom she’s not impressed by. Allan Jones is fantastic as Ricardo Baroni as a young tenor looking for his break as he gets help from Driftwood and other men to get his chance while being part of their gags.
Finally, there’s the Marx Brothers as they’re in top form in terms of their comedic performances with Harpo being the funniest of the three as the mute Tomasso who starts off as Lassparri’s assistant and later works for Driftwood in carrying all kinds of dirty deeds. Chico is very funny as Tomasso’s friend Fiorello with his very dry commentary on everything while creating some crazy ideas about the concepts of contracts. Groucho is hilarious as Otis B. Driftwood as a sharp-tongue business manager who says some of the most insulting things while being a man who isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said and more.
A Night at the Opera is a sensational film from Sam Wood and the Marx Brothers. The film is definitely one of the Marx Brothers’ quintessential comedies as well as a comedy that manages to showcase how to do set pieces and create a sense of entertainment as well as inventive gags. In the end, A Night at the Opera is a phenomenal film from Sam Wood and the Marx Brothers.
Marx Brothers Films: (Humor Risk) - (I’ll Say She Is) - (The Cocoanuts (1925)) - (Animal Crackers (1928 film)) - (The Cocoanuts (1929 film)) - (Animal Crackers (1930 film)) - (The House That Shadows Built) - (Monkey Business) - Horse Feathers - Duck Soup - A Day at the Races - Room Service - At the Circus - Go West - (The Big Store) - (A Night in Casablanca) - (Love Happy) - (The Story of Mankind)
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