Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. This week’s film is #85 on the list: A Night at the Opera (1935).
Compared to Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera is one step forward, but two steps back. The film splits its time more evenly between the Marx Brothers, so it doesn’t feel as dominated by Groucho’s rude one-liners, and there are more memorable scenes and gags—the contract scene brilliantly repeats a bad joke so many times, it eventually becomes amusing. But the trade off to the comedic balance being minorly improved is that the rest of the film suffers greatly, most notably that the Marx Brothers, while still the principal players, aren’t the focus of the story. Their antics still make up the majority of the film’s 96-minute runtime, but the film’s narrative concerns a romance between two singers. A Night at the Opera is nearly a half hour longer than Duck Soup, and not one minute of it is well spent, with large chunks devoted to songs and needless plot developments. There’s a funny bit early on where Groucho’s character, Otis B. Driftwood, actively avoids getting to the opera on time, because he dislikes it so much. I’d be willing to bet he similarly wouldn’t care for A Night at the Opera, and I don’t blame him.
Does It Belong on the List?
No, even less so than Duck Soup, which retroactively feels lean and enjoyable by comparison.