Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

A Night at the Opera (1935)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

A Night at the Opera (1935)

In this superb classic directed by Sam Wood, with some of the funniest sequences in all of cinematic history - and universally considered to be the Marx Brothers' best and most popular (commercially-successful) film - their first with MGM [Note: the remake Brain Donors (1992) paid homage to the film]:

  • the opening sequence, in which shady shyster manager Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) berated wealthy dowager Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) for sitting with his back to him at dinner: ("Yes, with your back to me. When I invite a woman to dinner, I expect her to look at my face. That's the price she has to pay"), although he had been wining and dining a pretty blonde the entire time behind her back; then at her table, he ordered: "Waiter...Have you got any milk-fed chicken?...Well, squeeze the milk out of one and bring me a glass"; as he sat with her, he continued to flatter her: "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? (If) she figures that one out, she's good"
  • Driftwood's censor-baiting complaint/suggestion to Mrs. Claypool: "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. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie"
  • the classic 'contract-tearing' parody scene of contract negotiations between the corrupt Driftwood and con-artist Fiorello (Chico Marx), for a lesser-known opera singer tenor named Riccardo "Ricky" Baroni (Allan Jones) - in the sequence of non-sensical, fast-talking dialogue composed of baffling non-sequiturs, redundancy and pointless negotiation, the scene progressed until all unwanted, disputed, unintelligible, and offending clauses ("The party of the first part...") were removed from their respective copies of the singer's proposed contract - by ripping them off and throwing them away; by the scene's conclusion, they were perplexed to find that they had no contracts at all - only scraps of paper in their hands; the scene ended with a discussion of the contract's final clause (Driftwood: "If any of the parties participating in this contract is shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified...That's what they call a 'sanity clause'") and Fiorello's conclusion that "You can't fool me - There ain't no Sanity Clause"
  • the food-ordering scene outside a small state-room on a cruise ship (the S.S. Americus bound to New York from Italy), when Driftwood ordered a meal from the ship's steward; his order was supplemented by additional orders from behind the stateroom door - whenever Tomasso (Harpo Marx) honked his horn, the hard-boiled egg order was changed: (Driftwood: "And two hard-boiled eggs" Tomasso: "HONK!" Driftwood: "Make that three hard-boiled eggs")
  • the famous "stateroom" scene in which Suite # 58 (a telephone-booth-size state-room) was ultimately crowded with 15 individuals: the Marx Brothers (Fiorello, Tomasso, and Driftwood) and Riccardo, plus two chambermaids to make up the room, an engineer (to turn off the heat), a manicurist (to trim Driftwood's nails), the engineer's large assistant, a female passenger looking for her Aunt Minnie, a determined, gum-chewing, cleaning washwoman to mop up, and numerous staff stewards with trays of egg orders and dinner; the scene climaxed when social-climbing opera matron Mrs. Claypool opened the door that spilled all the occupants out onto the floor like an avalanche
Food-Ordering Scene
The Crowded Stateroom Sequence
  • the scene at City Hall in which the stowaways (to get off the cruise ship) gagged three Russian airmen and posed as the heroic aviators ("Heroes of the Air") with glued-on beards; Fiorello's hilarious speech described the aviators' trouble-ridden trip to America ("The first time we started, we get-a halfway across when we run out-a gasoline and we gotta go back...")
  • the hilarious, rearranged furniture and bed-removal sequence in Driftwood's apartment to elude and confuse private Detective Henderson who was searching for the imposters and became utterly confounded: "There's something funny goin' on around here, but I'll get to the bottom of it" - but then confessed when all four beds disappeared: "I know I'm crazy!"
  • and the operatic opening night finale (a lavish production number) - a performance of Il Trovatore with madcap havoc: wild changes of backdrops, backstage and onstage chaos, Tomasso swinging Tarzan ape-like on stage fly-ropes in tune to Verdi's music; and after switching the sheet music for orchestral players to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," Fiorello and Tomasso began playing baseball catch in the orchestra pit while Driftwood roamed in the aisle hawking and shouting: "Peanuts! Peanuts!"
Switched Sheet Music
Playing Catch
"Peanuts! Peanuts!"

Opening Scene

Driftwood: "...And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie"

Contract-Tearing Parody Scene

New York City Hall Scene

Confused Detective Henderson

Opening Night Opera Finale - Chaos


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