Tag Archives: A Night at the Opera

Comic Layering, via Marxes and Jackasses.

ANightAtTheOpera jackass_the_movie

Comedy relies heavily on the layering principle, meaning that when you take one normal activity or object, and layer it with several more, the layers could potentially lead to a comical situation. A Marx Brothers film brought intrinsic comic layering, with at least three of the five siblings (Zeppo being optional, Gummo never appearing onscreen), the prerequisite harp solo from Harpo, a piano solo from Chico, and the studio-mandated romantic interlude between whatever pair of twenty-somethings happened to be on the MGM lot that day. (See the GB,HR. Guide to the Marxes)

Take a look at the cabin sequence from the Marx Brothers’ 1935 film A Night at the Opera. Please note that being on a boat isn’t funny, having a large trunk isn’t funny, stewards aren’t funny, ordering room service isn’t funny, having the floor mopped isn’t funny, sleeping isn’t funny, getting a manicure isn’t funny, and looking for one’s aunt isn’t funny. But, add all of these elements together, and, voila: Continue reading

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A Few More Thoughts on Duck Soup.

Though I’ve already written about the Marx Brothers’ 1935 film Duck Soup, I was re-watching it last week, and realized that, of all the Marx Brothers films, this one might be the closest they came to celluloid perfection. Though some may point to A Night at the Opera as being the Marx Brothers’ best film – to be sure, it is insanely, hysterically funny – it never feels too far off from Vaudevillian stage traditions. (Indeed, the Marx Brothers perfected Opera by taking it on the road as a stage show. Don’t see much of that these days.)

Throughout the film, the Marx Brothers remain a force of willful chaos directed against the old guard, with Groucho delivering a barrage of one-liners, any one of which could power the USS 30 Rock from here to Timbuktu. The big musical number, “We’re going to War!” would best be described as a cross between yodeling, line-dancing, tongues-speaking, head-standing and xylophone playing, capped off with the four brothers singing the spiritual song “All God’s Children Got Wings,” the lyrics aptly changed to, “All God’s Children Got Guns.” Continue reading

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