Tuesday, January 10, 2012

AFI Top 100 Countdown: #85 A NIGHT AT THE OPERA


Directed by: Sam Wood
Written by: George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, from a story by James Kevin McGuinness
Starring: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo Marx, Kitty Carlisle, and Allan Jones

AFI Top 100 Criteria:

Critical Recognition: Formal commendation in print, television, and digital media.

*"The quick-fire routines are brilliant; the one-liners crack like gunshots and most enjoyable are wacky eccentricities like Groucho unaccountably replying: "Thangg-YAH!" whenever the woman he's inveigled into his hotel room says a demure: "Thank you." It is impossible to explain why that is so funny; their sheer irreverence, exuberance and verbal comic genius are marvellous: a heavenly double-bill."- Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

*"The loudest and funniest screen comedy of the Winter season." -Andre Sennwald, New York Times

Major Award Winner: Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds, and major film festivals.

Popularity Over Time: Includes success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.

Historical Significance: A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation or other groundbreaking achievements.

* Widely regarded as a classic and is arguably (along with DUCK SOUP) the Marx Brothers' most-recognized film.

Cultural Impact: A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.

* It was selected in 1993 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

Javi: In this rather short time that I have been watching movies critically, I have noticed one very important distinction between modern and older movies. Older movies, especially the black and white ones, have much better dialogue. I guess the reasoning is that the lack of color and visual pizazz; they had to make all of the words coming out of the actor's mouth snappy and clever as could be. Also, I just loooooooove the way that they had to figure out how to do special effects and perform all of the singing and choreography on their own without Auto-Tune and CGI the kids are raving on about these days.

These are some of the thoughts that kept on permeating through my head as I watched A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, one of the greatest comedies by the Marx Brothers.  It's about a fast talking manager and his goofy friends getting into all sorts of crazy hijinks while trying to help a star-crossed couple reunite at the opera.  The premise sure allows itself to a lot of good snappy dialogue especially by Groucho.  Another rather surprising aspect I enjoyed was the singing, since the two romantic leads are both opera singers. It's pretty great actually! There's some good dance numbers that show off pretty great choreography by a huge cast.  Finally, there's a lot of musical jokes that any musician will appreciate that will make this movie quite a joy to watch.

And despite all of this, I did not nearly enjoy this movie as much as something like BRINGING UP BABY or  MODERN TIMES.  I can't point my finger to it.  It was well written, consistently funny, but something about it felt off.  I honestly can't make this an honest criticism since I have nothing to back it up with, but I figured it was worth bringing up anyway.  Maybe someone out there that did not enjoy it as much could point me in the right direction.  Maybe between watching SHERLOCK JR., MODERN TIMES, and other random black and white movies where I saw more creativity past the writing being used made me not feel as impressed by this movie as I would have been otherwise.

Jonesy: In a time before television, it seems the movies were the place to see familiar characters. Nowadays, you can turn on the TV sitcom every week and see all your favorite familiar faces. If the Marx Brothers were around now, they would have been a sitcom on network TV. But they wouldn't be in any superficial comedy; they would be the smart show in TV.

I remember I was first introduced to the Marx Brothers, specifically Harpo, during an episode of I Love Lucy. It was a great bit where they dressed like each other, and they mirrored each other through two different rooms. I found it hilarious when I was younger, and it's still one of the most memorable scenes to me from that show. What makes the Marx Brothers so brilliant is how timeless their antics are. Sure, a man nowadays isn't going to communicate through a horn and lift his leg up when he "shakes hands", but in the context of their movies, it works.

The main conflict of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is fairly simple with a pair of star-crossed lovers trying to make it together in the opera world. However, the draw is the interactions between the Marx brothers and the straight-laced cast. There were many exchanges of witty dialogue that reminded me of the classic "Who's on first?" skit. One of my favorite scenes, which is classic, was the small statewood room fiasco. The logistics and timing of the scene was so pitch perfect that I don't think I've seen anything else remotely close to it.

For me, this movie reminded me that comedies can be smart; they don't always have to have gross out humor to be funny. Unfortunately that's where this day and age has gone. I'm so tired of the fart jokes. Give me three crazy brothers with witty dialogue anytime!

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