A Night at the Opera

Hard to believe now, but the Marx Brothers great antiwar comedy Duck Soup was a flop in 1934. Zeppo retired, then MGM mogul Irving Thalberg, a bridge crony of Chico’s, signed the boys to MGM on the condition they add structure and story to their antics. The result, 1935’s A Night at the Opera, is a classic, yet also a collision between anarchy and propriety—which neatly encapsulates the dynamic of most Marx brothers movies. So here we have the polished MGM style and studio supporting players as a backdrop to Marxian zaniness. The opera sets are lavish and authentic; while on the ocean-liner crossing to New York, the steerage section breaks out in a song-and-dance frenzy that puts Titanic’s Irish reels to shame. The juvenile-lead love story, usually Zeppo’s province, is actually pretty credible—and cast with two young performers who can actually sing (Kitty Carlisle Hart and Allan Jones). Meanwhile, Harpo plays his harp and Groucho (as Mr. Driftwood) torments Margaret Dumont. Before filming, Thalberg had the brothers road-test the script with an abbreviated vaudeville tour—which made a stop here in Seattle in 1934! If only we could’ve seen that. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

June 19-25, 7 & 9 p.m.; Sat., June 20, 3 & 5 p.m.; Sun., June 21, 3 & 5 p.m., 2009

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