16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
"No need of you reading that, because these are duplicates.",
This review is from: A Night at the Opera (DVD)
Many have argued that A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is the Marx Brother's finest film, pointing out that it combined the best of the Brother's comedy with the biggest and boldest in MGM production values. Personally, while I really like the film, I wouldn't quite put it in the top slot. Any of the sequences containing the Marx Brothers themselves are gold, but I find that I'm not as enamored with the romantic subplot and singing as other reviewers have been (notably Leonard Maltin in this DVD's commentary). Still, arguing about which one of the fine films is actually the best is a little pointless. This is a great movie, regardless with how it compares to the others.
The biggest thing this film has going for it (outside of the wonderful Marx Brothers themselves, of course) is the big production values that MGM splashed out on. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's nice to have some great big sets for the Brothers to clown around in (Harpo's stunt double swinging through the rafters is great), but all things considered, I think I prefer the tongue-in-cheek send-up of the big dance numbers (as done in DUCK SOUP) to the production dances which are played straight here.
Margaret Dumont is underused, which is a shame since her dignified outrage usually accounted for big laughs. She gets a good scene at the beginning, and a handful of opportunities to look indignant later in the film, but she isn't the constant presence that she had been in other films.
Still, while I can pick out a few flaws here and there, this is overall a hilarious and fun movie. Much of what is considered classic Marx Brothers material is from this film: the too-many-people-in-the-stateroom scene, the Marxian deconstruction of a legal contract (if anyone thinks that "'The party of the first part' shall be known in this contract as 'the party of the first part'" isn't realistic, then I can show you fine print I've received from credit card companies that are even more tautological than that), and, of course, the grand finale wherein the three brothers completely destroy an opera-in-progress.
The DVD also contains an all-new documentary, which features (among other people) co-star Kitty Carlisle, who is amazingly sharp for being in her 90s, and Dom DeLuise, who talks a lot about food and appears to have been interviewed in the middle of making breakfast (no, I'm not sure why he's here). This is mostly a talking heads interview documentary and there's not a whole lot of brand new material or trivia, but it is nice to see some differing perspectives on things. The story of how Groucho got his name contradicts the anecdote given on the commentary track, and Carlisle refutes the conventional wisdom that states that Margaret Dumont didn't get any of the jokes Groucho was bouncing off her.
A short except from a 1961 broadcast of "The Hy Gardner Show" (who?) reveals Groucho recounting the story of he and his brothers stripping naked and roasting potatoes in the office of Irving Thalberg after the famed producer kept them waiting once too long. I trust you will enjoy the anecdote, because it's told a whopping three times during the course of these DVD extras. Shockingly, none of the tellings blatantly contradict each other.
Two shorts have been included as extras, though I'm not sure I understand their relevance. Robert Benchley's HOW TO SLEEP won the Academy Award in 1935 for Best Short Subject/Comedy, and it's certainly entertaining enough. As for the other short, SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE TROCADERO, well, I'm baffled. I can't make heads or tails of it. Set in a nightclub, a Hollywood talent scout is visiting this ritzy affair. Numerous song and dance people are attempting auditions, while the club's doorman is trying to impress by doing very bad celebrity impersonations (it didn't help that half the time I didn't recognize the name of the person he was impersonating or the name of the person people actually thought he was doing). Cameos by stars of the day abound by having the camera cut to different tables and a voice over shouting, "Hey, look! It's Bob Has-been!" (or whoever). It isn't helped by the fact that most of the careers of these minor celebrities ended soon after the shoot, so for me I was watching cattle call of anonymous hotshots. I couldn't figure out why these people were appearing as themselves. Was the audience supposed to believe that these people really hang out at this fictional locale? Groucho Marx (out of character and costume) has a three-second cameo where he looks as confused as I felt.
I'm wary of commentaries performed by people who weren't actually born when the film they're talking about was made, but Leonard Maltin does a fine job here. He relates a lot of anecdotes about the Marx Brothers, points out how the script is layering the subplots, and relates a lot of trivia that I had never heard before (for example, the only surviving print is actually an edited version made during WWII when all references to Italy have been removed, which explains why the film bizarrely never tells you were the first scenes are set). He even gets into the fun, shouting "What a twit!" when the evil opera singer refuses to sing on the cruise-liner for free.
Although the DVD of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is included in "The Marx Brothers Collection" box set, it is also available for individual sale. Although I slightly prefer A DAY AT THE RACES (also out on DVD now), I couldn't recommend anyone not pick up this film. For Marx novices, there's a great movie. For Marx aficionados, there's informational material that may be enjoyed. In any event, the powers that be have given a great film an excellent treatment on the DVD format.