A Night at the Opera (1935)| Review
Updated: May 31, 2022
Whenever a comedian of some sort decides to change their style of comedy, it comes with a forewarning of a potential disaster. Audiences are familiar with the certain flow and style such comedian produces, and tend to dissaprove of any change that may occur. When news hit about a change in the comedic style of the Marx Brothers,1930s audiences probably weren't looking forward to it. For the most part, the Marx Bros. comedy worked fine, except when challenged with the idea of film structure. Their previous films were rampent and functioned around the main idea of the film, as opposed to a progression. Studio executives immediately noticed this and demanded for a change.
Thus, the Marx. Bros were thrown into a carefully constructed work of art directed by the great Sam Wood (who directed some of their other films). Audiences loved it too. It ranked in 2nd at the box office for 1935 and was a critical success. Years later, it's still a success, with numerous spots on "Best of" lists and countless references. The AFI placed it on their best films of all time, at the 85th spot. Also, modern day comedians and satires are clearly influenced by A Night at the Opera.
The film follows a simple story consisting of nothing out of the ordinary. Basically, the brothers are attending an opera, which they would eventually wreck, and experience many absurdities along the way.
A comedy movie's merits don't entirely rely on the number of laughs an audience member produces during the runtime. The same goes for a horror movie. People still watch Psycho and Frankenstein, but very rarely does a modern-day viewer find those films even remotely scary. I feel like modern-day viewers shy away from films by people like Charlie Chaplin and the Marx. Bros because they're worried that it won't come across as funny. The style of comedy that I find funny has very little relations to comedy movies of the past, yet I still watch them (and often find them funny). I think that people should do the same because of three very important reasons: you might find them funny (like me), they represent an important moment in film history (i.e. political satire in Duck Soup and entertainment satire in A Night at the Opera), and because they are just flat-out masterpieces. If you step away from old-school comedy movies, like City Lights and A Night at the Opera, then you're missing out on some of the best films cinema has to offer.
The single critique I have for this film (the 4 points subtracted) is due to the off-kilter musical numbers. I've seen A Night at the Opera twice thus far, and on the second viewing I just straight-up fastforwarded the musical scenes. There's a fairly small number of them, but they ultimately seem out of place and/or break the flow of the film. The same problem of out of place musical sequences come up in other Marx. Bros films, except for Duck Soup. That might be the singular critique I have for the brothers' filmography. Apart from that, they are incredibly talented in each and every film.
If the Marx Brothers were to leave behind one film from their entire catalog that would represent their style and greatness then it would be A Night at the Opera. Duck Soup features some iconic gags. Horse Feathers contains frequent laugh-out-loud moments. Yet, A Night at the Opera is both of these combined, and much more. Sam Wood proves himself as part of a very few number of directors that can successfully incorporate filmmaking talent into a comedy scene. His masterful compositions and camera movement accompanied by perfectly timed comedic moments result in a masterpiece of a film. Likewise, the brilliantly incorporated structure never manages to lean on a coherent story or pacing. The film really is perfect in that regard, except for the critiques I mentioned earlier. A Night at the Opera now belongs to the third spot of my ten favorite films and thus encompassed by The Third Man, My Darling Clementine, Sherlock Jr, Peeping Tom, The Night of the Hunter, In A Lonely Place, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Grand Illusion. I would never hesitate to call A Night at the Opera the greatest comedy film ever made and one of the greatest films ever made.
Time Stamp: Janurary 2021