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Cameron H.

A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera   

10 members have voted

  1. 1. Should A NIGHT AT THE OPERA be on the AFI list?

    • Hits the High C
      4
    • Falls Flat
      6
  2. 2. Should both Duck Soup and A Night At The Opera be included?

    • Yes, give me both
      1
    • No, one’s enough...
      9


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This week Paul & Amy sing the praises of 1935’s Marx Brothers comedy “A Night At The Opera!” They take apart the film’s most famous scene in detail, listen to the “Shallow” of 1935, and debate what modern comedies could make the AFI list now. Plus: Amanda Garrett from the Old Hollywood Films blog talks about the life of Margaret Dumont, and Frank Ferrante tells us what he’s learned as a world-class Groucho Marx impersonator.

Next week, help us make a musical montage by calling the Unspooled voicemail line at 747-666-5824 and singing a little bit of West Side Story’s “America”! Follow us on Twitter @Unspooled, get more info at unspooledpod.com, and don’t forget to rate, review & subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts. Photo credit: Kim Troxall

This episode is brought to you by The Human Algorithm Podcast, Linkedin (www.linkedin.com/UNSPOOLED), and Fracture (www.fractureme.com/UNSPOOLED).

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It's not a clear, direct reference, but this Simpsons scene seemed kind of inspired by the State Room scene in A Night at the Opera

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For me, I think I’m on the same page with Amy in the sense that I think the jokes landed better for me in A Night At The Opera than they they did in Duck Soup. Still, I think, of the two, Duck Soup has more cultural relevance so I’d pick that one to stay.

On a personal note, one of my favorite bits in the movie was this one between Groucho and Chico:

-Groucho: Here are the contracts. You just put his name at the top and you sign at the bottom. There's no need of you reading that because these are duplicates. 
- Chico: Yes, duplicates. Duplicates, eh?
- Groucho: I say, they're duplicates. 
- Chico: Oh, sure, it's a duplicate. Certainly. 
- Groucho: Don't you know what duplicates are?
- Chico: Sure. Those five kids up in Canada

I loved this joke because it reminds me of my father - who just passed away in December. While we were arranging his funeral, people would share personal stories about my father, many of which I had never heard. One of which had to do with the Dionne quintuplets. Born near Callander, Canada in 1934, the Dionne children were the first known quintuplets to all survive infancy. It was a huge deal at the time. So much so that it managed to get a reference in A Night At The Opera. (Chico is mistaking “duplicate” with “quintuplet.”) How this relates to my father is my that father was born in the town of North Bay, Ontario which is just south of Callander. When he was a kid, apparently the idea of quintuplets was still a major oddity and their existence attracted a bunch of tourists who would drive up there hoping to catch a glimpse of where they lived. Evidently, these tourists would often stop my father and his pals and ask them for directions to the quintuplets. As polite as can be, my father would give them careful and detailed directions - in the completely opposite direction! When I heard this story, I asked if it was to protect the quintuplets from gawkers, and I was told, “No, your father and his friends just liked messing with them.” Lol

I really love this story about my father as a kid, and I like the idea that my father shared a bit of the same anarchic spirit of the Marx Brothers. It was nice to be reminded of that story as I was watching the film.

I also want to say he eventually met Groucho, but I might be misremembering. He worked in advertising for most of his life and I know he had contact with Jerry Lewis (annoying), William “Bill” Shatner (class act), and Gilbert Godfried (...). However, I have a distinct memory of him telling me about Groucho and saying that he liked him.

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26 minutes ago, Cameron H. said:

For me, I think I’m on the same page with Amy in the sense that I think the jokes landed better for me in A Night At The Opera than they they did in Duck Soup. Still, I think, of the two, Duck Soup has more cultural relevance so I’d pick that one to stay.

On a personal note, one of my favorite bits in the movie was this one between Groucho and Chico:

-Groucho: Here are the contracts. You just put his name at the top and you sign at the bottom. There's no need of you reading that because these are duplicates. 
- Chico: Yes, duplicates. Duplicates, eh?
- Groucho: I say, they're duplicates. 
- Chico: Oh, sure, it's a duplicate. Certainly. 
- Groucho: Don't you know what duplicates are?
- Chico: Sure. Those five kids up in Canada

I loved this joke because it reminds me of my father - who just passed away in December. While we were arranging his funeral, people would share personal stories about my father, many of which I had never heard. One of which had to do with the Dionne quintuplets. Born near Callander, Canada in 1934, the Dionne children were the first known quintuplets to all survive infancy. It was a huge deal at the time. So much so that it managed to get a reference in A Night At The Opera. (Chico is mistaking “duplicate” with “quintuplet.”) How this relates to my father is my that father was born in the town of North Bay, Ontario which is just south of Callander. When he was a kid, apparently the idea of quintuplets was still a major oddity and their existence attracted a bunch of tourists who would drive up there hoping to catch a glimpse of where they lived. Evidently, these tourists would often stop my father and his pals and ask them for directions to the quintuplets. As polite as can be, my father would give them careful and detailed directions - in the completely opposite direction! When I heard this story, I asked if it was to protect the quintuplets from gawkers, and I was told, “No, your father and his friends just liked messing with them.” Lol

I really love this story about my father as a kid, and I like the idea that my father shared a bit of the same anarchic spirit of the Marx Brothers. It was nice to be reminded of that story as I was watching the film.

I also want to say he eventually met Groucho, but I might be misremembering. He worked in advertising for most of his life and I know he had contact with Jerry Lewis (annoying), William “Bill” Shatner (class act), and Gilbert Godfried (...). However, I have a distinct memory of him telling me about Groucho and saying that he liked him.

I definitely did not get this joke. So, I appreciate this explanation.

If we limit ourselves to one Marx Brothers movie, I'd push for Duck Soup no question. I think it's a more pure look at what they did best that no one else can quite do. No one else does that insanity. A Night At The Opera is maybe more influential but I think at the expense of feeling a bit more watered down for lack of a better phrase. This is still good but more "conventional" to me. 

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I have a vague sense here that A Night at the Opera works better on first viewing, but Duck Soup works better after multiple viewings. The lack of story in the latter doesn't matter so much when you're not expecting it anymore, while the "dead spots" in the former become more magnified when you're waiting for the next comedy bit.

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I' very curious to hear what people who didn't grow up with The Marx Brothers made of this movie. To me things like The Marx Brothers and Three Stooges are very formative in a lot of people's youths. When view outside of that, some of that joy I think is often lost. I myself never watched The Marx Brothers movies growing up. As far as "classic comedy" want I was more into Abbot and Costello and Chaplin, so these two movies were completely new to me. I knew Groucho from "You Bet Your Life" and knew of him and his quick wit and iconic look. That's about it. Also from cartoons and that I knew about Harpo being a silent clown. So I watch these movies now and I enjoy them enough but I don't love them. I recognize what makes them great and there are good bits but more than anything else I see their DNA in comedies I do love. For me I enjoyed A Night at the Opera more because there was a story. I liked having a break from the jokes. I liked having a breather. The highs might not have been as high but having a clear defined hero and villain made their antics less malicious seeming as well. Also, the piano bits were delightful and a nice change of pace.

I said it in Duck Soup and I'll say it again now, Airplane! should get one of the Marx Brother's slots on the list. To me it is the perfect evolution of the Marx Brother's. It is wall to wall jokes that run the gambit of different styles. And from A Night at the Opera it has a story with beginning middle and end and a love story. However, rather it takes those elements and makes it part of the comedy rather than being separate from the comedy.

All that said, I wouldn't not watch another Marx Brother's movie, but I don't think I'd ever seek them out. 

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It's not a difficult decision for me at all between Duck Soup & A Night at the Opera (which I watched last month). Focusing on anybody other than the Marx brothers in a Marx brothers movie is just foolish. I got bored whenever there was a focus on the opera singing couple, and I found myself fast-forwarding through the songs. I also think the attempt to make the Marx brothers good guys who help out the good people at the expense of the bad is foolish. They're anarchic by nature. The reason the antagonist is trying to whip Harpo is because Harpo was screwing things up for him rather than acting as his assistant. And the brothers actually knock him unconscious repeatedly. They're like Bugs Bunny, gleefully amoral and out to humiliate everyone around them.

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8 hours ago, Cam Bert said:

To me things like The Marx Brothers and Three Stooges are very formative in a lot of people's youths. When view outside of that, some of that joy I think is often lost

Almost like a certain “Goonies Conundrum...” :P 

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10 hours ago, FictionIsntReal said:

They're like Bugs Bunny

Well... Bugs Bunny is like them.  They came before Bugs Bunny, and he often acted like Groucho directly.

One thing that I think hasn't got too much attention in this series is boundary-pushing, and I think these two Marx Brothers movies really point that out. Duck Soup was an original. There's been a lot of insane joke-jammed movies since, but find me one that came out before 1933. It pushed the boundaries of comedy so so far. It's the Citizen Kane of comedy. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, etc. are hilarious, but not in this anarchic way, and Duck Soup really set a level which you see in all our favorite things -- best eps of The Simpsons, Monty Python movies, Will Ferrell's absurdity, etc. Opera, on the other hand, plays more within the boundaries of what people expect a film to be. That's fine, but that's also why I don't think it has a place on the AFI list. Put more comedies on there, yes please, but put ones that help to redefine what a comedy movie is.

Also, I'm not so sure taste in the Marx Brothers has to do with childhood nostalgia; it's just that comedy is subjective.. which is also why I think boundary-pushing is a good measure for comedy.   

 

 

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4 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

Almost like a certain “Goonies Conundrum...” :P 

Though I would say there's a big difference between people being nostalgic for something that was contemporary media in their youth and falling for something made 40-50 years before they were born. The latter tends to be more legit.

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I'm another vote for Duck Soup over A Night at the Opera, though I understand people who prefer the clearer story of the latter.  It strikes me that there's a bit of a parallel to the Canon debate for Monty Python and the Holy Grail vs Life of Brian.  Life of Brian certainly has a more coherent plot, but Holy Grail is so loaded with jokes that I can't help but be more drawn to Holy Grail.

For the Marx brothers debate, I wonder if Horse Feathers would have been a nice compromise between Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera.  I find it much funnier than Opera, but it has more of a clear story than Soup, as well as some standard Marxian things that Soup lacks like a Chico piano scene and a Harpo harp scene.  Also, Horse Feathers has its own version of the state room scene, and "Everyone Says I Love You" is way catchier than "Alone".

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8 hours ago, AlmostAGhost said:

Also, I'm not so sure taste in the Marx Brothers has to do with childhood nostalgia; it's just that comedy is subjective.. which is also why I think boundary-pushing is a good measure for comedy.   

I wouldn't say nostalgia. I didn't mean to imply you can only enjoy them if you grew up with them, Just that a lot of the basis for what we find funny is cemented in childhood and our formative years. Now tastes do mature and change over time but as an example something like slapstick is not something you hear often about people falling in love with later in life. That's why I was curious if their style of humor speaks through to people that didn't grow up with it.

 

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I know it's a bit early but the poll so far indicates that most of us think that one Marx Brother's is enough. Well, fun fact in 2000 AFI made a list of the best comedies. The top 10 were.

1. Some Like it Hot

2. Tootsie 

3. Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

4. Annie Hall

5. Duck Soup

6. Blazing Saddles

7. MASH

8. It Happened One Night

9. The Graduate

10. Airplane!

Of those only Airplane! and Blazing Saddles aren't in the Top 100. Now before I personally lobbied for Airplane! but seeing Blazing Saddles I think we would be remiss to not have a Mel Brooks movie on the list. So if we have to cut one of these out like Zeppo, would you pick either Airplane! or Blazing Saddles to replace it or something else entirely?

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21 minutes ago, Cam Bert said:

I know it's a bit early but the poll so far indicates that most of us think that one Marx Brother's is enough. Well, fun fact in 2000 AFI made a list of the best comedies. The top 10 were.

1. Some Like it Hot

2. Tootsie 

3. Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

4. Annie Hall

5. Duck Soup

6. Blazing Saddles

7. MASH

8. It Happened One Night

9. The Graduate

10. Airplane!

Of those only Airplane! and Blazing Saddles aren't in the Top 100. Now before I personally lobbied for Airplane! but seeing Blazing Saddles I think we would be remiss to not have a Mel Brooks movie on the list. So if we have to cut one of these out like Zeppo, would you pick either Airplane! or Blazing Saddles to replace it or something else entirely?

I definitely think Mel Brooks should be represented although I prefer Young Frankenstein to Blazing Saddles.

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1 hour ago, Cameron H. said:

I definitely think Mel Brooks should be represented although I prefer Young Frankenstein to Blazing Saddles.

Agree 100%. Blazing Saddles is a movie I like a lot more on paper than I like as a movie. Young Frankenstein just makes me laugh like crazy.

I'd also be fine with Airplane being on the list.

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5 hours ago, Cameron H. said:

I definitely think Mel Brooks should be represented although I prefer Young Frankenstein to Blazing Saddles.

Same. I would also vote Airplane! on there first.

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One movie I'm mildly surprised didn't make the list is Spinal Tap. I know you're limited to 10 and the list is filled with critically loved, audience loved classics. This Is Spinal Tap is adored and maybe more influential to modern comedy than quite a few of those. It didn't create the mockumentary but I'd say it popularized it. It was so big that almost every moderately successful mockumentary for decades was about a musical group or a Christopher Guest movie. I definitely don't think we have The Office, Parks And Recreation, Arrested Development without it.

I'd definitely kick MASH off the list for it. Partly because I hate that movie but also because it's bigger influence was as a show in my mind.

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10 minutes ago, grudlian. said:

I’ddefinitely kick MASH off the list for it. Partly because I hate that movie but also because it's bigger influence was as a show in my mind.

I can hardly wait to totally not watch MASH again - ever.

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On 3/15/2019 at 4:07 PM, bleary said:

I'm another vote for Duck Soup over A Night at the Opera, though I understand people who prefer the clearer story of the latter.  It strikes me that there's a bit of a parallel to the Canon debate for Monty Python and the Holy Grail vs Life of Brian.  Life of Brian certainly has a more coherent plot, but Holy Grail is so loaded with jokes that I can't help but be more drawn to Holy Grail.

For the Marx brothers debate, I wonder if Horse Feathers would have been a nice compromise between Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera.  I find it much funnier than Opera, but it has more of a clear story than Soup, as well as some standard Marxian things that Soup lacks like a Chico piano scene and a Harpo harp scene.  Also, Horse Feathers has its own version of the state room scene, and "Everyone Says I Love You" is way catchier than "Alone".

I also prefer Holy Grail to Life of Brian for that reason. I had thought that when Amy had them face off for The Canon that the latter won, but checking wikipedia I see that the original prevailed. And there was much rejoicing!

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Okay I haven't seen either of the Marx brothers films, but based on the clips they played to highlight the comedic moments in each episode, I vote that A Night at the Opera is the one that deserves to stay because the clips from this one made me laugh more and gave me more joy than what I heard from Duck Soup. Terrible way to base an opinion, I know I know, but one day I'll be able to actually get to all of these properly and make an educated decision.

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On 3/18/2019 at 10:23 PM, FictionIsntReal said:

I also prefer Holy Grail to Life of Brian for that reason. I had thought that when Amy had them face off for The Canon that the latter won, but checking wikipedia I see that the original prevailed. And there was much rejoicing!

It was a close vote! I personally find Life of Brian just as funny and also better as a story, so I voted for that. But it's hard to argue that Holy Grail isn't really their most iconic work.

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1 hour ago, sycasey 2.0 said:

It was a close vote! I personally find Life of Brian just as funny and also better as a story, so I voted for that. But it's hard to argue that Holy Grail isn't really their most iconic work.

Growing up I liked Holy Grail more the sheer silliness of it (and TBH, I was young enough I may not have been getting LoB).  As I've gotten older, I like Life of Brian more for the religious satirical-aspect.  Which I don't think social-political satire's sense of relevance (different than story, but possibly more difficult to land without a story) has been acknowledged yet in these comparisons.

I still haven't bought into the political satire argument I've heard people say about Duck Soup. I won't be getting A Night at the Opera until after the polls close.

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44 minutes ago, ol' eddy wrecks said:

Growing up I liked Holy Grail more the sheer silliness of it (and TBH, I was young enough I may not have been getting LoB).  As I've gotten older, I like Life of Brian more for the religious satirical-aspect.  Which I don't think social-political satire's sense of relevance (different than story, but possibly more difficult to land without a story) has been acknowledged yet in these comparisons.

I still haven't bought into the political satire argument I've heard people say about Duck Soup. I won't be getting A Night at the Opera until after the polls close.

The Marx Brothers' socio-political satire I don't think is as pointed or focused as Monty Python's, but yeah, that is also a point in favor of Duck Soup.

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