The Marx Brothers made a string of comic masterpieces for Paramount Pictures, but when the last and best of them all, DUCK SOUP, did poorly at the box office, the studio gave Groucho the ax, Chico the boot, Harpo the pink slip, and Zeppo was nowhere to be found by then so it didn't matter anyway. After two years of thumb-twiddling, the brothers landed a deal at the biggest studio of them all, MGM, when producer Irving Thalberg decided to take them under his wing and spiff up their image a bit. He removed just enough of their anarchy so that it was barely noticed (unless you were looking closely), and he reinstated romantic subplots into their pictures in the manner of THE COCOANUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS, but now the brothers were more directly involved in patching up broken romances and helping those adorable youngsters pitch woo. For one picture, the Thalberg Formula worked like a charm; for their next picture, it worked less well but the comedy was good enough to salvage things; and thereafter the slavish adherence to the formula was one of the factors that killed the Marx Brothers' career. Thalberg deserves praise for making this comic masterpiece, just as he deserves to be damned for lighting the long and slow fuse that led to the Marx's demise (he's also the guy who destroyed GREED and insisted that the public be as charmed by Norma Shearer as he was). A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is a great comedy in every respect. But watch it immediately after one of their Paramount classics and you'll understand what was sacrificed and compromised along the way. - JL
My friendship with my co-webmaster John L. began in 1996 when
wrote me an email about my opinion in a newsgroup that A Night at the
Opera was a better movie than Duck
Soup. From that one email
a great friendship and several websites. In 2008, I
Night at the Opera and wrote this to him:
"I am watching A Night at the Opera on TCM right now and guess what? Our friendship has come full circle! Our correspondence began because I expressed the idea that Opera was better than Duck Soup. Finally I see I am wrong. Opera is still a great movie, but after two dozen viewings, it has worn out its welcome with me, and now I see all the flaws instead of the gags. Anyway, Duck Soup is the better picture. You win."
Still, that was in 2008, and if I watch it tomorrow, I know I will like it again. So... ½ - JB
2015 Update: I love the film again.
QUOTE AND MAKE IT A
"Do they allow tipping on the boat?"
"Have you two fives?"
"Oh, yes sir!"
"Well, then you don't need the ten cents I was going to give you."
A BOW FOR HARPO
Harpo's Solo: "Alone"
Chico's Solo: "All I Do is Dream of You"
Both songs were written by Nacio Herb Brown (music) and Arthur Freed (lyrics).
The other famous A NIGHT AT THE OPERA song, "Cosi Cosa", was written
by Bronislau Kaper, Walter Jurmann and Ned Washington. It crops
up again as background music in A DAY AT THE RACES and THE BIG STORE.
The opera the Marx Brothers destroy is Il Trovatore by Guiseppe Verde (or, as the late comedian / musician Victor Borge called him, Joe Green), which first premiered in 1853. Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano. "The Anvil Chorus", which Chico and Harpo fool around with in THE COCOANUTS and Groucho, Harpo and Chico fool around with in ANIMAL CRACKERS. originates from Il Trovatore, and it can be heard in the film during - you guess-a good, boss! - the opera climax.
AND NO LONGER SOMETIMES ZEPPO
After DUCK SOUP, Zeppo
left the team and struck out on his own. Show biz legend has it that when Irving Thalberg
if the Three Marx Brothers should get paid at the same scale as the
Four Marx Brothers, Groucho argued that without Zeppo, they were worth
twice as much.