Our own Scott Tobias last year devoted an entire “Departures” column to the 1935 Marx Brothers comedy A Night At The Opera, which is recommended reading for anyone who wants to understand where one of the comedy team’s biggest hits and most enduringly popular films fits into the larger Marx Brothers story. (In short: It marked a change in approach for the brothers’ movies, mostly for the worse in the long run.) But it’s not essential to know all that to appreciate how funny A Night At The Opera is, and how well-honed the interplay between Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. The most famous scene is A Night At The Opera is the “stateroom scene,” a superlative example of how to stage physical comedy in a tight frame, as more and more characters crowd into a cramped space. But the movie also contains some of Groucho’s best throwaway lines—“That can’t be my shirt, my shirt doesn’t snore,” “When I invite a woman to dinner I expect her to look at my face; that’s the price she has to pay,” “Can you sleep on your stomach with such big buttons on your pajamas?”—which he delivers with a disarming naturalness, almost like they’re not “lines” at all. A Night At The Opera isn’t the tightest of the Marx Brothers films, and its “dueling tenors” plot feels like an afterthought; but Groucho’s performance in particular is so lively that it feels like ground zero for modern comedy. It airs on Turner Classic Movies at 8 p.m. Eastern.
October 13, 2014 newsreel