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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 hi' 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, 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!):

  • At the Opera Tonight
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grande Dame: Mrs. Claypool
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: As usual, a few examples of this, such as the breakfast sketch in Groucho's apartment.
  • 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!
  • 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 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.
  • Overly-Long Gag: "And two hard-boiled eggs!" ". . . and two hard-boiled eggs."
    • *HONK*
      • "Make that three hard-boiled eggs."
  • Reality Subtext: A few jokes and references to the ongoing Depression. Probably the most serious one is when, towards the end of the film, Groucho goes up in the elevator to his office—met with friendly or sycophantic reactions by the opera staff and the elevator attendant—only to find he's been fired, and then they all immediately turn on him.
    • They're not above using it as material, either.
      Mrs. Claypool: Six months ago you said you'd introduce me into society, and in all that time you've done nothing except draw a very handsome salary.
      Driftwood: You call that nothing? How many men do you think are drawing a handsome salary these days?
  • 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.
  • 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, 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.


Mortal KombatTropeNamers/FilmThe Nightmare Before Christmas
Easy RiderAFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies ( 10 th Anniversary Edition)Platoon
It Happened One NightNational Film RegistryHis Girl Friday
The Naked SpurCreator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerNorth by Northwest
Duck SoupFilms of the 1930sA Day at the Races
Painted-On PantsImageSource/Live-Action FilmsThe Stateroom Sketch

alternative title(s): A Night At The Opera
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