Film: A Night at the Opera

And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor. Play, Don.
Otis B. Driftwood

A Night at the Opera was a 1935 Marx Brothers film, the first made in their switch from Paramount to MGM. Promised a free rein but forced by producer Irving Thalberg to focus the chaos against the bad guys who deserve the mistreatment, Opera became the largest box-office hit of the Marx Brothers' filmography. There's a fine debate over this or Duck Soup as the Marx Brothers' best film as well as one of the funniest movies ever. It was subsequently Homaged by the Zucker Brothers' movie Brain Donors.

Not to be confused with the Queen album, A Night at the Opera (1975) which was named after the movie. (Or with the Blind Guardian album, which was named after the Queen album.)


This film is associated with the following tropes (if you dare!):

  • All Part of the Show: Gottlieb tries to invoke this by on going in costume when he and Henderson pursue Tomasso and Fiorello (also hiding in costume) onto the stage, but the hijinks that ensue flatten any hopes of this trope working.
  • At the Opera Tonight
  • Brick Joke: At the end when Gottlieb is blackmailed into accepting Rosa, Riccardo, and Driftwood back as opera employees, Driftwod and Fiorello repeat the rip-the-contract routine from the beginning.
  • The Cast Show Off: The scene on the boat where Chico plays the piano? That's not dubbed in. He was actually that good. (In the vaudeville days, he used to play the piano blindfolded.)
    • Kitty Carlisle had previously sung opera onstage for real, and Allan Jones, while not classically trained, was a genuinely talented singing star of the day. And of course, Harpo playing the harp.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tommaso (Harpo)'s rope-climbing and acrobatic skill.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Driftwood (Groucho), manager of Mrs. Claypool. He overhears that Lasparri is going to earn $1000 per night so he soon scrambles to intercept the deal...he is keeping a small profit from that $1000 dollars and paying to the singer... $10, minus a 10% to him for negotiating the deal.
    Driftwood: I figure as long as he doesn't sing too often, he can break even.
  • Crowd Song: Whenever Riccardo sings.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Take a guess...
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Contract clauses:
    "The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part."
    "The party of the second part shall be know in this contract as the party of the second part."
  • The Dog Bites Back: Shortly after being whipped by Lasparri, Tomasso takes the opportunity to knock him out (twice!) with a blow to the head.
  • Emergency Impersonation: Harpo, Chico and Jones gag three famous airmen and impersonate them. They are later required to give a speech. Bizarre quotes and hilarity ensues —Harpo plays a mute— and their Paper-Thin Disguise doesn't last for long.
  • Entitled to Have You: Lasparri towards Rosa. He helps arrange her debut in America just so he can have her, even though she's clearly uninterested, and largely to satisfy his own ego. When he sees her with Riccardo he has her kicked out of the show.
  • Expy: All three Marxes, plus Margaret Dumont, play basically the same characters they play in every other movie.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Tomasso, who eats a lit cigar and a tie for starters.
  • Gaslighting: When the team finally reaches america, they move beds from one room to the other to anger the detective and drive him batty.
  • Food Porn: The scene where Chico, Harpo and Ricardo finally get to eat will make any viewer seriously hungry for Italian food. Pasta with sauce, salamis, whole tomatoes, wedges of cheese, loaves of bread, and bottles of wine - all served on a single plate!
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    Driftwood: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of 'Minnie the Moocher' for 75 cents." (Pause) For a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.
  • Getting the Boot: The elevator man punts Driftwood down the stairs after Driftwood's firing.
  • Gold Digger: Driftwood lusts after Mrs. Claypool's money, and he isn't exactly subtle or great at hiding it.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Claypool, a social-climbing opera lover.
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: As usual, a few examples of this, such as the breakfast sketch in Groucho's apartment.
  • The Heckler: Driftwood heckles the opera shamelessly while Tomasso and Fiorello are disrupting it in the pit and on stage. Boogie boogie boogie!
  • Homage: The 1992 film Brain Donors is a lovingly-crafted tribute.
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: If not the Trope Namer, than at least the Ur-Example.
  • Jerkass: The full-of-it Lassparri.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Driftwood is rude, abusive, screwy, cheap, thieving, and a Manipulative Bastard, but he sees to it the good guys prevail and that the lovers Riccardo and Rosa get their big break.
  • Lighter and Softer: Those who object to the MGM films, even A Night at the Opera, will claim it's because the Marxes were made to be nicer (see Jerk with a Heart of Gold).
  • Literal Metaphor
    Driftwood: You see that spaghetti? Now, behind that spaghetti is none other than Herman Gottlieb, director of the New York Opera Company. Do you follow me?
    Mrs. Claypool: Yes.
    Driftwood: Well stop following me or I'll have you arrested!
  • Logical Fallacies: Half of the hilarity comes from Groucho's elaborate wordplay and mind games.
    Driftwood: That woman? Do you know why I sat with her? Because she reminded me of you.
    Mrs. Claypool: Really?
    Driftwood: Of course, that's why I'm sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips! Everything about you reminds me of you. Except you. How do you account for that? (beat) If she figures that one out, she's good.
  • Malaproper
    Driftwood: It's all right, that's in every contract. That's what they call a sanity clause.
    Fiorello: You can't fool me! There ain't no Sanity Claus!
  • Mugged for Disguise: After Tomasso bonks Gottleib on the head again, Driftwood takes his tux to get into the opera.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Lasparri establishes his position as the resident Jerkass by abusing Tomasso—though he's Genre Savvy enough to feign kindness in Rosa's presence.
  • Only in It for the Money: Lasparri refuses to sing for the crowd on the docks because he's not getting paid for it.
  • Only Sane Man: Subverted. They simply didn't have the budget for one. Everyone - even the straight-laced lovers and the evil Jerkass - gets sucked into the Marx Brothers' madness.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: Groucho, playing the shady social consultant Otis B. Driftwood and operating solely along the lines of the Rule of Funny, orders two to three portions of what seems to be everything on the menu in an illogical way, punctuating his selections after each item with an order for "two hard-boiled eggs" for the stowaways hiding in his stateroom.
  • Overly Long Gag: Mr. Driftwood is apparently very hungry indeed!
    Driftwood: And two hard-boiled eggs!
    Steward (writing down the order): . . . and two hard-boiled eggs.
    Harpo's Horn: *HONK*
    Driftwood: Make that three hard-boiled eggs.
    Harpo's Horn: HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK
    Driftwood: Either it's foggy out or make that another twelve hard boiled eggs!
    Harpo's Horn: honk
    Driftwood: ...and one goose egg.
  • Produce Pelting: Lasparri gets an apple thrown at him when he tries to sing an encore after Riccardo and Rosa's lauded performance.
  • Refuge in Audacity: From the very first lines -
    (For context, Driftwood is sitting with his back to Mrs Claypool, the woman he was supposed to have dinner with, having had dinner with another woman and the waiter has just given him the bill)
    Driftwood: Nine dollars and forty-eight cents...?! This is an outrage! (throws the bill to the woman) If I were you, I wouldn't pay it! (walks away)
  • The Remake: Brain Donors, an all-but-the-name retelling of Opera.
    • All but the name and the opera, that is.
  • Shout-Out: While Driftwood tries to hide the three stowaways in his room while the cop looks around:
    Henderson: What's this!?
    Driftwood: Why that's the fire escape. And that's a table, and this is a room, and there's the door and I wish you'd use it. I... I vant to be alone.
  • The Show Must Go On: The confused and increasingly frustrated Lassparri keeps singing, even when the scenes behind and in front of him change rapidly.
  • Spiritual Successor: the following Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races, shares a similar plot but with different characters and scenery (a rest home in need of rescue and a horse race to be won).
  • The Stateroom Sketch: The Trope Namer.
  • Straight Woman: Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool, as always the prim foil to Groucho's antics.
  • Tap on the Head: Gottlieb, many many times, and once to the cop.
  • Tempting Fate: After getting fired, kicked down the stairs, and forced off a park bench by his troublesome colleagues, Otis thinks the worst is over.
    Driftwood: Well, there's one consolation; nothing more can happen to me.
    Passing Cop: Hey, get off the grass.
    Otis: I was wrong. [tries to get a drink of water from the fountain, which promptly dries up.] People drink too much water anyway.
  • This Means War!: Used by Driftwood after the three fake airmen are confronted and leave. A Shout-Out to Duck Soup
  • Tough Room: Driftwood gives an opening speech at the opera that in real life would have brought the house down (see the opening quote), but the only response he gets is stony silence.
  • You Get What You Pay For: Drifwood overhears that Lasparri is going to be paid one thousand dollars per night and decides to skim the deal somehow. He is clueless and assumes Fiorelos is Lasparri's manager, so he is willing to pay 10 dollars per night. He learns later that he was hiring Ricardo Baroni instead. It turns out Ricardo Baroni is an excellent singer, just unknown by the public.


Alternative Title(s):

A Night At The Opera