Monday, November 15, 2010

“Ladies and gentlemen... I guess that takes in most of you...”

…seventy-five years ago on this date, M-G-M released A Night at the Opera (1935)—a film that has come to be recognized as one of two genuine comedy masterpieces featuring the Marx Brothers (the other being Duck Soup [1933], natch).  Edward Copeland at ECOF (that’s blogosphere shorthand for Edward Copeland on Film) asked if I would whip a little something up to commemorate the occasion, and I was only too happy to do so.  (Let’s face it—I don’t want to see those pictures get out any more than you do.)

As I mention at the beginning of the essay, my favorite Marx Brothers movie varies depending on the day of the week—one day it might be Opera, the next day SoupHorse Feathers (1932) the day after that.  (The last one is due mainly because there are an awful lot of memorably quotable lines, including my all-time favorite Groucho-ism: “I’d horsewhip you if I had a horse.”)  In revisiting the movie Saturday night to prepare for writing the post, I always have difficulty understanding why Marxists complain about Opera’s M-G-M gloss and the music in the film—critic Danel Griffin observes that “A Night at the Opera is funny, but this is NOT the Marx Brothers, and their earlier style is so sorely missed that the film falls flat.  The main problem with A Night at the Opera is the obvious lack of the Marx Brothers’ trademark anarchy.  What distinguished them in their Paramount films from all other comedians was their thumb-biting indictment of society.”  I don’t agree with this sentiment at all—I think the brothers Marx were still biting their thumbs in Opera, they just did it with a little extra polish…and really, what could be more anarchic than running amok during something as stuffed-shirted societal as an opera?  (Plus, Griffin seems to be forgetting that some of those Paramount films were a bit overstuffed with gratuitous musical interludes as well, like The Cocoanuts [1929] and Animal Crackers [1930].)  But of course, that’s why some folks likes chocolate and some folks likes vanilla.

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1 comment:

mndean said...

The reason for the production numbers in the first two Paramount Marxes is obvious - they're taken directly from the Marx Broadway successes of 1925 and 1928 and minimally adapted. They were even filmed at Paramount's Astoria, NY studio. Also, with sound coming in, musicals were the big thing Hollywood tried to peddle in 1929-30 to introduce the new technology.