A Night at the Opera

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
A Night at the Opera Movie Poster Image
Marx Brothers masterpiece is still hilarious.
  • NR
  • 1935
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

No real positive messages. 

Positive role models & representations

Groucho plays a man who is brazenly using a woman for her money. Harpo delights a large group of children with his silly piano playing. 

Violence & scariness

The antagonist hits Harpo repeatedly with a cane. Some slapstick violence: falls, spills, slaps, chases. 

Sexy stuff

Tame 1930s-style sexual innuendo. In a slapstick scene in which more and more people enter a crowded and small room where Harpo manages to remain asleep as he rolls on the backs of women, Groucho says that he "does better asleep than I do awake."  

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Groucho Marx is seldom without his trademark cigar. Others smoke cigars, drink. Hookah smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Night at the Opera is a classic 1935 Marx Brothers comedy. Comedy fans of all ages will see some of the greatest comedic moments ever put on film, including a legendary scene in which the Marx Brothers brilliantly and hilariously navigate a tiny stateroom that gets more and more crowded with people, as well as scenes of Chico and Harpo playing piano and harp to the earnest delight of the children gathered around them. Of course, there's cigar smoking -- there's also drinking and a scene in which characters smoke from a hookah. Harpo is hit repeatedly with a cane by the antagonist. Some slapstick violence occurs: falls, spills, chases. There's some tame (by today's standards) innuendo in Groucho's rapid-fire delivery: While Harpo sleeps in the legendary "stateroom scene" as he rolls over the backs of standing women, Groucho quips, "He does better asleep than I do awake." Groucho's character is also using a wealthy woman strictly for her money. 

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What's the story?

In Marx Brothers comedy, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, fast-talking fortune hunter Otis P. Driftwood (Groucho) is after dim dowager Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont). Mrs. Claypool brings Italian opera stars Rosa (Kitty Carlisle) and the cruel Rodolfo Laspari (Walter Woolf King) to the United States onboard an ocean liner. Talented tenor Riccardo (Allan Jones), who loves Rosa, his manager Fiorello (Chico), and Tomasso (Harpo), Rodolfo's abused dresser, stow away in Driftwood's steamer trunk. They manage to get off the boat disguised as bearded Russian aviators, but are discovered and are chased by a New York detective. When Rosa refuses Rodolfo's romantic advances, she is fired. But Tomasso and Fiorello wreak havoc on the opera's performance of "Il Trovatore" until Rosa and Riccardo come in and save the show.

Is it any good?

Harpo, Chico, and Groucho Marx bring their sublime brand of anarchy to perhaps its most fitting setting in this comic masterpiece. A Night at the Opera was the most commercially successful of the Marx Brothers movies, partly because of the very sections that seem most tedious to us now: the serious musical numbers and the romance. The movie veers happily from the wildest slapstick to the cleverest wordplay, punctuated by musical numbers that range from pleasant to innocuous.

Many of the Marx Brothers' best-loved routines are here, including the wildly funny contract negotiation, as Groucho and Chico try to con each other ("That's what we call a sanity clause." "Oh no, you can't fool me. There ain't no Sanity Clause!"), and the famous scene in which one person after another enters Groucho's closet-sized stateroom. Budding pianists may especially enjoy Chico's specialty: playing the piano while his fingers do acrobatics.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about classic movies. What makes A Night at the Opera a "classic"? What qualities differentiate classic movies from movies that might be simply entertaining or good, if not timeless? 

  • At the time the movie was released, there were stricter standards regarding profanity and sex in movies than there are now. Did these standards hinder the jokes of the Marx Brothers? Why or why not?

  • Could a movie like this be remade for today? How would it be different? Should a movie like this be remade for today? Who do you think could star in it in place of the Marx Brothers? 

Movie details

For kids who love comedy

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