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#1 of 25 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted April 26 2004 - 12:25 PM

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A Night At The Opera

Studio: Warner Brothers
Year: 1935
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 91 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: DD Mono
Color/B&W: B&W
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
MSRP: $19.97
Package: Keep Case

That’s all right, that’s what they call a sanity clause…. You can’t fool me there ain’t no sanity clause…

The Feature:
On May 4th, 2004, Marx Brothers fans should be ecstatic as Warner Brothers will be releasing all seven films under their control. The titles included in the set, (all of which were originally produced by MGM, RKO & UA), A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941) and A Night in Casablanca (1946) are being released on DVD for the very first time, as part of The Marx Brothers Collection, a deluxe five DVD gift set priced at $59.92. A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and A Night in Casablanca will also be available as single discs priced at $19.97 SRP. Fans should be also pleased to hear that Love Happy (1949), will be released in June by Artisan. Now if we can just get Universal going on the five original Paramount films, the collection will be complete.

Both Cocoanuts as well as Animal Crackers were originally written for the stage and Cocoanuts, was their first film. The films were basically versions of the two earlier stage productions. From 1929 onward, they were mainly active in motion picture films and starred in thirteen films up until 1949. In their first films they appeared as The Four Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Zeppo, Chico), but Zeppo left the business shortly after Duck Soup. Their first five films were produced at Paramount and after a falling out due to the tepid response to Duck Soup, the group left Paramount and signed on at MGM. After that, Chico and Harpo left the business as well, but Groucho went on to star in a few films without his brothers and eventually would host the long running TV show, You Bet Your Life.

In typical Marx Brothers anarchy fashion to buck the establishment and to poke fun at the pomposity associated with the “opera”, Otis B. Driftwood (played by the legendary wisecracker Groucho Marx) and the gang try to get a loyal and likeable unknown singer, Ricardo Baroni (played by Allan Jones) into the opera house but Herman Gottlieb (played by Siegfried Rumann), Director of the New York Opera Company has another star in mind. Otis, who’s a shady business manager, promises to get wealthy socialite widow Mrs. Claypool (played by longtime Marx Brothers co-star Margaret Dumont) into high society by making her a sponsor of the Opera.

The young singer Baroni is in love with the Opera’s female lead, Rosa Castaldi (played by Kitty Carlisle) and winds up stowed away on the ship bound for the U.S. from Italy. Knowing that Gottlieb is prepared to pay the new star a thousand dollars a night, Otis knows there is money to be made if he can find a talent to foot the bill. Eventually he hoodwinks Fiorello (played by Chico Marx), into signing Ricardo, a talented but unknown singer. The three brothers then see to it that Jones sings in New York, even if it means destroying the opera house in the process during the hilarious climax.

Unfortunately it’s interesting to note that the initial opening sequence of the film is missing as the movie starts with the waiter paging Mr. Otis B. Driftwood and there is no reference of Italy when the film starts which is rumored to be all that remains. Mr. Leonard Maltin goes into great detail during the commentary about the cuts that were made to the film which were done in the interest of the country due to the Italian alliances during the Second World War.

Lastly, fans will be pleased to hear that all five discs from this set have finally arrived from Warner Brothers in single keep cases. Here’s hoping the trend continues.

WB has done another admirable job at presenting this 1.37:1 aspect ratio transfer. I’d always remembered this film looking pretty rough from past viewings, mainly on TV. I’m happy to report such is not the case here. It's obvious that at least some level of cleanup was involved since I can only imagine this is as good as the film has ever looked. OK, just before you break out into a cold sweat, as the MGM Leo intro starts to play it looks, well… not very promising. Thankfully, only the intro looks somewhat troublesome and the rest of the film looks great.

Let me start with the blacks which are adequately deep offering up a pretty respectable grayscale. Contrast was also as impressive as whites were as stark and as crisp as we could hope for. Film grain was present and was rather minimal and appropriate.

There was a nice level of image detail and definition. Typical of the period, many of the close-ups on Carlisle were shot soft, but this does an admirable job. There are some minor instances of dirt and debris but as I said earlier, I can only imagine this as major improvement over what it may have looked like. There were also several jumps or splices that were obvious but never overly intrusive. Thankfully, I couldn't detect any compression errors nor were there any signs of enhancement.

Does this transfer compare to a Bad And The Beautiful or Casablanca...? No. Nor was I expecting it to… but from what I remember of seeing this film in the past, I suspect it has never looked better. Remember, this film dates back to 1935...!!

The audio on the DVD is a good monaural Dolby Digital presentation. There was a slight hiss present throughout the entire presentation, it wasn't troublesome but it was present.

Dialogue was always clear and intelligible and the track had a rather natural quality to it. The only real trouble spot were some of the vocals during a few of Carlisle's singing performances which sounded slightly compressed, oftentimes making lyrics, rather difficult to distinguish.

Beyond the inherent limitations of the DD Mono track, the track is rather thin but by and large, does what it needs to do.

Special Features:
There are several interesting special features to be found on this disc. First up is:
[*] A Commentary by Leonard Maltin. This might just be the best commentary I’ve ever listened to - if not, it’s close. As always, Mr. Maltin is energetic and his enthusiasm is absolutely contagious. Right from the start he proclaims that he is not interested in explaining the humor in an academic sense (which suits me just fine), he merely wants to convey anecdotal tidbits that fans should appreciate. After a brief biography on the brothers, there is much discussion on the cast & crew members and the various projects they worked on through the years. There are many interesting facts relating to how MGM (namely Thalberg) tested various jokes and timed their deliveries, discussing the laugh time so as not to allow the audience to “step on the laugh”. He also goes into great detail as to the original three minutes that were apparently cut from the film, explaining the scenes that were cut and why – very interesting stuff. If you’re interested in commentaries, this one shouldn’t be missed.
[*] Remarks on Marx is a great documentary which was obviously produced for this upcoming set which features several celebrities including Kitty Carlisle and Carl Reiner, several comedy writers as well as film historian, Robert Osborne. The topic of discussion includes the story of their nicknames, the characters of the brothers and their trademarks as well as an in depth discussion about their tenure working at the MGM studios and the relationship they had with the young genius, Irving Thalberg. Lots of great info offered up here. Duration: 33:57 minutes.
[*] During an interview with Groucho Marx On The Hy Gardner Show, Groucho goes into great detail telling the story of the infamous meeting where Thalberg had left the brothers waiting once too often and they wound up stripping all their clothes off sitting naked, roasting potatoes in Thalberg’s office waiting for his return. Funny funny stuff. Duration: 5:22 minutes.
[*] Also included are two MGM Vintage Shorts. The first is “How To Sleep”. Duration: 10:39 minutes. The second one is “Sunday Night At The Trocadero”. Duration: 20:17 minutes. Both of these are in terrific shape.
[*] Finally, the Theatrical Trailer is included which is in reasonable condition. You gotta watch this just to see who replaces Leo during the MGM intro… Duration: 2:17 minutes.

Final Thoughts:
A Night At The Opera is perhaps less frantic than the Marx Brothers’ earlier chaotic Paramount films, but it’s a better balanced film too, which includes some of the funniest moments and wittiest lines to come out of any of the Marx Brothers’ films. There are also several great and memorable musical performances from Chico and Harpo as well. And for those very reasons, A Night At The Opera might just very well be the best film of the bunch. I can tell you, it places very high on my list of all time favorites.

Warner Brothers has done another wonderful job of doing this truly classic film the justice it deserves. Although I haven’t made my way through the entire set as of yet (I have watched A Night In Casablanca and A Day At The Races – look for more on these soon), but what I have seen of it is impressive, to say the very least and that’s not even considering the set works out to a mere $6 bucks per film. From a value standpoint, purchasing these discs individually makes very little sense, not to mention four of the titles (on two discs) aren’t going to be available individually. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should purchase this set, don’t be – you might just find yourself having to take a rumba…

Highly Recommended…!!

Release Date: May 4th, 2004
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#2 of 25 OFFLINE   Conrad_SSS


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Posted April 26 2004 - 12:32 PM

As always, another wonderful, insightful review from Herb. I always enjoy reading his pieces here, but the enthusiasm for this Marx Bros. set is so infectious, that it has only heightened my excitement to receive this boxed set. It sounds like Warner has (yet again!) done a stellar job with this film. I can't wait to hear about the others. ...and did we ever think we'd see those words about a Warner classic release?
Finally! Thank you, Herb. Thank you, Warner Bros.

#3 of 25 OFFLINE   Tommy G

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Posted April 26 2004 - 12:35 PM

Wow, great review Herb. I just went to deepdiscountdvd.com to pre-order this baby. I'll get ready to laugh my head off on May 4. Now, if we could only get Duck Soup.......
Please release The Goodies on Region 1 DVD

#4 of 25 OFFLINE   Chris*W


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Posted April 26 2004 - 01:19 PM

Great review, Herb, and I can't wait to pick up the box set!

#5 of 25 OFFLINE   Jean-Michel


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Posted April 26 2004 - 02:52 PM

Is the Maltin commentary carried over from the Criterion LD?

#6 of 25 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted April 26 2004 - 03:37 PM

It might very well be Jean-Michel, I don't recall any references being mentioned about it being made for "the DVD" etc nor do I have the LD to compare it to... I thoroughly enjoyed it however. Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#7 of 25 OFFLINE   Kajs


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Posted April 26 2004 - 04:32 PM

What he said.Posted Image

#8 of 25 OFFLINE   StevenFC


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Posted April 26 2004 - 07:59 PM

I appreciate the review Herb, but this is one of those no-brainers. There was very little chance of me not picking these up short of it being a complete mess.
Steve's DVDs

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#9 of 25 OFFLINE   oscar_merkx


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Posted April 26 2004 - 08:20 PM

Great review and can't wait to spin the disc

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#10 of 25 OFFLINE   dave wright

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Posted April 27 2004 - 12:06 AM

Thanks for the review.Really looking forward to this set,hopefully it will set in motion the release of the remaining marx brothers catalogue. ps:whats happened to the leafs offense?-----besides the flyers defense. dave(devs fan)from jersey

#11 of 25 OFFLINE   Jaime_Weinman


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Posted April 27 2004 - 02:01 AM

Edited because the thing I mentioned is dealt with in the review (I should have read it more carefully). Thanks for the review of one of my favorite movies, which I must have seen scores of times since I was a little kid. I will definitely be getting this, though I'm undecided on the rest of the box. I guess I'll probably get the box, because I like RACES and, even better, NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, which sort of brought back some of the anarchy of the Brothers' Paramount movies after they became increasingly generic and "soft" in their later MGM films. BTW, you know what's nice about NIGHT AT THE OPERA? It may make fun of opera but it sort of takes it seriously too, in the sense that we're encouraged to root for the young lovers to succeed in the opera world. Irving Thalberg, the producer, had kind of highbrow tastes (he tried to get Arnold Schoenberg to write the music for THE GOOD EARTH), and I think he actually liked opera, which shows in this movie. Oh, and one more thing: This movie has my all-time favorite character name, "Rodolfo Lasparri." (Paid tribute to by Andrew Bergman in THE FRESHMAN.)

#12 of 25 OFFLINE   Chuck L

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Posted April 27 2004 - 03:57 AM

For me, the bringing of this teams movies to DVD, is a bright spot in the 2004 marketplace. Look forward to being able to have the MGM classic films along side those from Universal (was able to get them for only $8.99 a piece at Media Play when all that mess was going on between Universal and Image), and though they might lack the luster of this collection, I wouldn't trade them for the world (upgarde...oh yeah...) Thanks for the review and waiting...WAITING...till May 4 gets here!

#13 of 25 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted April 27 2004 - 05:08 AM

Thanks for the review Herb--up to your usual standards.
¡Time is not my master!

#14 of 25 OFFLINE   Randy Korstick

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Posted April 27 2004 - 06:24 AM

Thanks Herb. My second favorite Marx Brothers film after Duck Soup.
...When you eliminate the impossible whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth

#15 of 25 OFFLINE   Lyle H.

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Posted April 27 2004 - 08:06 AM


Thanks, Herb! I can't wait (Posted Image) for this DVD, as well as the rest of the Marx Brothers collection. For the record, my top 5 Marx Bros. films -

1. Horse Feathers
2. Monkey Business
3. A Night at the Opera
4. Go West
5. A Day at the Races/Animal Crackers

#16 of 25 OFFLINE   Seth--L



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Posted April 27 2004 - 08:42 AM

That's a good point, though opera does deserve much of the criticism it gets. By the time A Night at the Opera was made, the diva system had gotten out of control and producers had gained too much power, resulting in the actual music making being marginalized. The system has only improved really in the last 20 years, and finally, only now have opera houses started firing singers for being too fat. Who can take an opera seriously when you have a 300lb singer playing the role of a seductress or warrior who has to waddle around the stage because of their weight?
Well - There it is.
My Music Collection

#17 of 25 OFFLINE   CraigF



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Posted April 27 2004 - 02:18 PM

To the best of my recollection, I have never seen *any* of the WB Marx brothers' films, just the Paramount ones. So this will be a big deal for me. I'm planning to watch ANatO tomorrow, my expectations are pretty high after reading how revered the film is. Marx and Monsters, I'll have little free time in the next 3 weeks...hope nothing else good comes out.Posted Image

#18 of 25 OFFLINE   Randy A Salas

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Posted May 02 2004 - 02:19 PM

I asked Leonard Maltin about this. He said that the DVD commentary is revised and updated from the one he did for the laserdisc to include new information about the Marxes and the movies that have come to light since the LD was released. So the DVD commentary is new.
Randy A. Salas
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Minneapolis Star Tribune daily newspaper

#19 of 25 OFFLINE   Herb Kane

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Posted May 03 2004 - 01:03 AM

Thanks for clarifying Randy... I really enjoyed it. Herb.
My Top 25 Noirs:

25. 711 Ocean Drive (1950), 24. Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), 23. Desperate (1947), 22. Pushover (1954), 21. The Blue Dahlia (1946), 20. The File on Thelma Jordon (1949), 19. He Ran All the Way (1951), 18. The Asphalt Jungle (1950), 17. The Killing (1956), 16. I Walk Alone (1948),...

#20 of 25 OFFLINE   Richie C.

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Posted May 25 2004 - 01:02 PM

Just got my copy and was surprised to find that there is no paper insert in the slipcase...not that they are ever very useful, but it's just something I've come to expect as part of "the package." Is it just an error in the production of my copy or is there no paper insert for this disc (or is there just a booklet in the box set)?

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