Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Fourteen, Part Two – ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1935)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. There has been a few disagreements, some indifference but plenty of mutual appreciation. Will it last as the countdown continues?

Yasser was a Rizla’s width from a ten earlier this week. Can Fred get anywhere near that with his polar opposite choice?

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.

Fred: You have watched ‘A Night at the Opera

Yasser: Yes, Mr. S. Tell me why it made the cut

FS: When I was growing up, my first cinematic love was the films of Laurel & Hardy. Naturally, I began to explore the films of their comedy contemporaries. My Dad, who was never an L&H fan, had a couple of Marx Brothers videos, so that seemed like a good place to start. The movies were ‘Animal Crackers‘ and ‘Monkey Business‘, two of their earlier efforts. I didn’t really have a clue what was going on in either, but I knew I liked it. I kept on watching and ‘A Night at the Opera’ was the one I loved over the others

YA: How old were you at the time?

FS: Ooooo…. probably 10 or 11. I found, and still find, them hilarious

‘A Night at the Opera’
USA – 1935
Director: Sam Wood
Starring: Groucho, Chico and Harpo – The Marx Brothers, Allan Jones, Kitty Carlisle, Sig Ruman, Margaret Dumont

FS: They are quite something. They are comedy legends, yet only made 13 films of which most are pretty crap. However, between 1930 and 1937, they made six comedies in a row that are among the funniest I’ve ever seen. Did you know much about them before this?

YA: I have heard of them, but I’d not seen any of their work before now, but in a way I’m glad that I didn’t know much about them…

FS: Okay… why?

YA: …because when I watched ‘A Night at the Opera’ it was like stumbling on a gem

FS: Oh good!

YA: I was surprisingly pleased, a lot, and I’ll tell you why. The bothers, particularly Groucho, are comedic geniuses. The jokes were terrible now I think of it, but executed with unparalleled timing and snap.

FS: That is so odd! Dave [a mutual friend] thinks exactly the same…

YA: They are my kind of jokes – a-maize-ingly corny!

FS: … he says that he loves Groucho for the delivery, not the jokes

YA: I know that when I attempt to be a comedian the jokes in this film are the type I try to make. However, my timing and delivery doesn’t have the same effect, I’m afraid… like how I said “a-maize-ingly corny” and you didn’t laugh

FS: I’m sorry. I was in shock that you liked The Marx Brothers

YA: Mainly Groucho. He stole the show

FS: Well, I think 99% of the population would agree with you. He’s the main man and was the only one to have a successful solo career. He was a comedy genius – no question. As a youngster, though, I liked Harpo the best. In fact, the scene where he’s at the piano in ‘A Night at the Opera’ is the scene that made me really adore The Marxes

YA: Yeah, that was probably one of the most charming moments

FS: Did you find Chico and Harpo funny, or was it all about Groucho’s insults and rapid-fire wise-cracks for you?

YA: Well, the suitcase scene, where they stow away in Groucho’s luggage was really funny. Also the back stage bits at the start of the movie. Chico is my second-favourite

FS: That surprises me

YA: He was not as snappy as Groucho, but he had this cynical humour which made me chuckle

FS: His lines are usually even cornier than Groucho’s

YA: I like corny jokes

FS: What I love is that Groucho can get the better of anyone except Chico and Harpo, and Harpo can get the better of everyone, even Chico

YA: Harpo is quite gormless at times, but it’s all part of his charm

FS: Exactly. He’s quite childlike, but able to wind people up like nobody’s business, like when he tries on all of Lassparri’s (Walter Woolf King) costumes. He’s basically playing dress-up but in a way that makes his boss VERY mad

YA: All three were funny as hell

FS: If you watch their earlier movies, made at Paramount, they are very funny, but have less of a coherent plot. I like the story in this film. Even the musical interludes, which are often criticised in their movies, are less stilted in ‘A Night at the Opera’. They feel less out-of-place.

YA: The opera bits were not favourable to me

FS: Okay. I can appreciate that

YA: I think the romantic elements of the plot were okay, but when they broke into song it totally stammered the movie for me

FS: Yeah. The song ‘Alone‘ was not required. I tend to fast forward that

YA: I get that there had to be some sort of plot that the comedy could be based around. I can see why they chose the opera element. It had to have the socialite background for the jokes to work the way they do. The gags needed reactions, such as is illustrated by Margaret Dumont and Sig Ruman, who were both very good

FS: The supporting cast who were not part of the romance were all very good

YA: I found Allan Jones and Kitty Carlisle didn’t fit the tone, but King’s Lassparri, the love story’s antagonist, brought a form of egotistical bravado that the movie really needed

FS: This is going to sound really patronising

YA: Patronise all you like

FS: Part of me feels this is the first movie of mine you have really ‘got’. Everything you are saying matches exactly what I think

YA: That’s not patronising, brother

FS: The Marx Brothers famously didn’t get on with the director Sam Wood. Do you think that came across at all? Was there too much focus on the other elements of the story? Did you feel the comedy was pushed to the side?

YA: I believe there might have been creative differences as the film jolts from one element to the others

FS: Not very seamless?

YA: It really isn’t. The romance element is literally on the verge of killing the entire movie

FS: (laughs)

YA: It’s redeemed by the comedy. It really did make me laugh. I did find that the ending, though well executed, felt slightly rushed

FS: I’d agree with that, in a way

YA: It didn’t breathe

FS: The Marxes were known as frantic, anarchic, madcap comedians so perhaps they felt they had to have a frantic end. Were there any particular scenes you liked?

YA: Yeah! Loads! The first scene made me smile from the off. Groucho and Dumont have this funny chemistry as he insults and compliments her

FS: It’s a great start

YA: The backstage scene was hilarious. I think it let Chico and Harpo flex their comedic chops

FS: Straight into the action. No messing about

YA: A poor choice of words, as that is exactly what they are doing

FS: (laughs) True, true. What about the contract scene between Groucho and Chico

YA: It had that Abbott & Costello ‘Who’s on first?’ rhythm to it. The timing was exquisite

FS: The Marxes had been Vaudeville comedians before they made movies and rapid dialogue was a real feature of Vaudeville. The timing was absolutely everything

YA: Agreed. The inquisitive policeman scene was epic

FS: Oh God! Yasser! That is my favourite bit. It’s not as famous as some of the other bits but I think it’s a class above. it’s the timing again. it’s absurd, chaotic and laugh out loud funny

YA: My favourite was the stateroom scene. Everyone fitting into that cabin, the delivery of Groucho’s jokes… it shouldn’t work, but it does

FS: It’s the perfect mix of the ridiculous, both verbal and physical

YA: Very witty. I loved it. Kept laughing, chuckling, smiling. Mate, I was happy

FS: Was there anything that held it back apart from the romance?

YA: That was pretty much it. The person I had the biggest problem with was Carlisle. She was pointless, brought nothing to her character. They could have had just a professional competition between Baroni (Jones) and Lassparri

FS: Do you have any questions for me before I ask you to rate it?

YA: It’s in the top 12. Why?

FS: For all the Hitchcock thrillers and MGM musicals and Fritz Lang crime movies I love, my first love is comedy. The Marx Brothers have been favourites of mine for nearly 20 years and this film is funnier than anything else they ever did. It’s probably one of only three of four films that make me laugh out load every time I’ve seen it, and I’ve seen it A LOT

YA: I’m on the fence regarding its rating, old chap. It’s rare for a film to make me laugh whole-heartedly, so for me to be laughing in the first three minutes is really something. The comedic genius of The Marx Brothers, most notably Groucho, overshadows the plot, which is a good thing. The romance irked me, as did the random singing, and it wasn’t needed. Neither was Kitty Carlisle, as I’ve said, and Jones was dire. King was the saving grace of the romantic element as he at least contributed to the comedy. Ruman, Dumont and O’Connor were also very good. All three brothers contribute to the giggles, of course. There are sequences here that are gold. They shouldn’t really work, but they do, with a charm, charisma, rhythm and punch that make the most cold-hearted cunt smile ear-to-ear

FS: (laughs)

YA: I can certainly see why you chose it, Fred. There are things I can’t forgive, but the Marx boys pulled you through to an 8/10

FS: Do you know what?

YA: Shoot

FS: This is the first week where the score is almost irrelevant and I’m just delighted you enjoyed it as much as you did. I feel better with this getting eight than I did when ‘Back to the Future‘ got a ten

YA: I’m very happy I watched ‘A Night at the Opera’. Despite the flaws, the comedy was impeccable

Next week: East versus West in ‘The Last Samurai’ and Creationism versus Darwinism in ‘Inherit the Wind’


One thought on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Fourteen, Part Two – ‘A Night at the Opera’ (1935)

    […] A Night at the Opera […]

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