A Night at the Opera - Marx Brothers
October 1935 - The movies this week are taken up entirely with rich women and music. The funniest and, for that matter, the best picture is evolved from the inanities of the Three Marx Brothers.
The fourth and youngest of the family has developed a conscience and acquired a job. The remaining three, however, carry on in their rollicking, unrestrained, and captivating high jinks.
And as they are given tuneful support from Allen Jones and Kitty Carlisle, and their most lavish production from M-G-M, A Night at the Opera turns out to be fetching entertainment.
Unlike the heroes of the other films of the week, Groucho Marx does not spurn a lonesome widow just because she happens to have a few million dollars. In fact the smart Groucho pursues the dough-heavy dowager with a persistence that is both tender and touching. Every time he learns that she has a few more dollars he grows more aware of her charms.
While Groucho is campaigning for what is technically known as the hand of his wealthy admirer, his brothers chase a dizzy course from the redolent opera houses of Italy to the opera houses of America. This involves a good deal of beautifully timed roughhouse humor and an equal amount of excellent singing from young Allen Jones.
A boisterous, rowdy, and thoroughly delightful piece, A Night at the Opera hits a swift pace from the opening and never slackens under the barrage of puns, songs, dancing, and insane antics that come tumbling on top of each other. Following the same general lines of their earlier hits, the Marx Brothers' new film is imbued with an undeniable freshness and enthusiasm that sweeps crazily, but none the less triumphantly, through the whole cockeyed affair.
Harpo, the bewigged ninny who is screened but not heard, does a lovely turn on the harp, and Chico mangles the language and the piano with equal dexterity. But it is Groucho's undisguised desire for the stately Margaret Dumont that gives A Night at the Opera its distinctive and intangible appeal—that and the brilliant screen debut of Allen Jones.
Interesting tidbits: It's the Three Marx Brothers now, Zeppo Herbert having ditched stagedom, which was but stoogedom to him, for the 10-percent or Hollywood artists agent business. The fifth or just plain Marx, Gummo Milton, is Zeppo's Eastern representative. . . . Groucho's the eldest and really Julius Henry. Was the first to be entertaining. At fourteen he went to Denver as a female impersonator, member of the Le Roy Trio. Was stranded there, his measly wages swiped by a fellow Triolet. Was fed bananas by kindly passengers on train trip East. Showed he could take it by promptly becoming one of the Three Nightingales. It was the boys' mother who formed the brother act, managing them till her death. Originally they all played saxophone and piano. Harpo talked and Groucho did German-dialect stuff. Then Groucho switched to the black mustache, the fast patter and cigar, Harpo (Arthur) taught himself the harp, and Chico (Leonard) went antipasto. Harpo once hired a harp teacher, and wound up teaching her his method. After the war they added Zeppo; leaped from vodvil to musicomedy; and wowed them with I'll Say She Is. The New York intellectuals' pets, their success was meteoric. Today Harpo plays any instrument. Recently went to Russia and took the Five-Year Planski by storm. Groucho is comfortably married; has two children ; worries ; has the fastest wit in America ; throws away thousands of jokes in his everyday kidding. Chico and Harpo play tournament bridge; once challenged the Culbertsons to a $5,000 match. Culbertson refused, dubbing it a gag. The boys still insist it would have been close. Harpo is unmarried ; an anagrammarian and badmintonian. Went mute one day when his dialogue got stale and has remained so ever since. Lots think he can't talk, but it ain't so. . . . For the first time in movie history, picture was tried out in tabloid form on the road to see how gags went, which was well.
The Players: Chico, Groucho, and Harpo Marx, Allen Jones, Kitty Carlisle, Margaret Dumont, Siegfried Rumann, Walter King. Directed by Sam Wood.
Screen play by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
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