MovieChat Forums > A Night at the Opera (1935) Discussion > Groucho acts out of character

Groucho acts out of character


Scene: The dame is in her room sobbing on the bed. Groucho comes in. What does he do? He shows human kindness! "Can I help?" he asks. Then he gives her a letter from her man. It's completely out of character. Never, in any Marx Brothers picture does Groucho act for anyone but himself.

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im not sure this is out of character. A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera, At the Circus, he's in it to help out a couple of kids who are in love, have someone stronger then them holding them down and plotting against them, and then the marx brothers, with groucho in the lead, come in and save the day

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That's true. In "A Day at the Races" Groucho doesn't want to save the sanatarium, then someone says to do it for Margaret Dumont, and he suddenly has a change of heart. That's a distortion of his character. The MGM plots took the brothers out of their element by inserting commercially viable morality. A hard truth of the early Marx Brothers pictures is that Groucho is not a nice guy.

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IMO, in all the Marx Bros movies, Groucho seems to "bond" with anyone who can take a joke and/or aren't complete a-holes. This usually results in "friendly acquaintances" with the romantic leads and the rest of the Marx Bros.

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When the brothers went to MGM, producer Irving Thalberg insisted on softening their characters. They respected Thalberg and made such allowances. When "A Night at the Opera" became a box-office bonanza, Thalberg was proven right, at least by the standards of his time. Regrettably, Thalberg died when their next film, "A Day at the Races" was in production, and their later producers couldn't balance their trademark lunacy with the mawkish sentimentality imposed upon them.
Since that time there has been a debate about which Marx Brothers "period" was better; the five films they made at Paramount from 1929-33, or the five they made at MGM from 1935-41.

Overall I prefer the no-holds-barred approach of the Paramount films, even if their not always great MOVIES. "Opera" and "Races" may be better movies, and there are many great Marx Moments in both, but I have to grit my teeth through the musical numbers and sappy plot scenes. I'd rather not comment at this time on the later MGM films and the two independent films they made in the 40's.

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Maybe I've been too harsh on the later MGM movies. After all, a bad Marx Brothers movie is better than a bad any-other-movie nowadays. But it's true. The purest Marx Brothers are to be found in the earlier films.

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Well, there are elements in the last three MGM film that are pretty hard to stomach -- Kenny Baker in "At the Circus", the fact that the plot of "Go West" is a re-working of Laurel & Hardy's "Way Out West", ALL of the musical numbers from "The Big Store"...and regrettably a good deal of the comedy.

That said, there are some good moments in each film too. But not great. I agree that the finest moments of Marx were at Paramount; "Monkey Business" and "Duck Soup" are their most brilliant comedies. "A Night at the Opera" is their best movie.

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i dont think Groucho is necessarily supposed to be a horrible person per say, i think hes kinda like Hawkeye from MASH, in that, he instantly can tell wether a character is a "good" or "bad" person, and acts accordingly, but he is still grouchy all round no matter what. Hence Groucho, and not Meano.

LS:
30 Days of Night 6.5/10
The Breakfast Club 8/10
Dial M for Murder 8/10

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Since you mentioned Hawkeye did you see the MASH episode where he played Groucho.

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Isn't that every episode?;) hehe but yeah i have seen that one. I love Alan Alda.

LS:
Beowulf 7/10
A Night at the Opera 7/10
30 Days of Night 6.5/10
The Breakfast Club 8/10

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Um, no there really isn't any comparison between the Paramount and MGM stuff. The Paramount movies are far, far better.

I can see the original poster's point though. I did notice that Groucho was more of a nice guy willing to help others in Opera, but this wasn't all THAT unusual. For instance in The Cocoanuts he kinda helps the sap hero clear himself of the jewel theft charge. Ditto Animal Crackers where he helps the young couple find the painting in his own odd way. In Monkey Business he helps find the kidnapped gangster's daughter.

Now in Horse Feathers and especially Duck Soup? He's a complete scumbag in those, haha.

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Oddly, and this was true all throughout his career, Groucho was like a detached spectator who insinuates himself into the lives of those around him. This allowed him to provide a sort of existential running commentary of whatever the proceedings at hand, despite the fact that he was a causal factor of the chaotic circumstances and typically the loosely organized ringleader. It's as if his character was its own third person POV: enunciating the viewer's own thoughts amidst the anarchy while ever winking at the audience's prejudices towards class warfare and other sociopolitical insolences.

Ergo, the thinly veiled mean-spiritedness that so defined his characters is actually a mirror, but the audience is so busy laughing at themselves, they fail to recognize the conceit. Like Tyler Durden, Groucho is all the things we wish we could be, but are too insecure and/or frightened to openly admit to ourselves. Thus we create a surrogate copy of ourselves, or project one onto a willing host (such as Groucho) to embody these traits, even though all of these things are quietly, even desperately inside of us trying to break free.

Perhaps the reason it is palatable at all is because of the balance struck by the other brothers, particularly Harpo, who almost always represents the innocent and/or naive child needlessly suffering at the hands of the given film's antagonists.

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Interesting post, but as has been pointed out, Thalberg felt that the Brothers needed to provide sympathetic support to the main couple in these stories, instead of just creating chaos. This added to the story element, with the gags thrown in to the mix, on the side.

The letter scene was an example.

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Groucho never has any misery or mean spiritedness behind his wise cracks. It all seems like it's done in a playful joking way. His witty asides are just part of his character and definitely makes him funny. Take for instance,in "The coconauts" when Groucho and Chico are going over hotel blueprints and he says to Chico "this is the main road leading away from the hotel, that's the road I wish you were on", but then he and Chico continue talking about the blueprints. Groucho has no deep meaning or any cruel intentions behind his wisecracks, it's all in good fun. If he was making a lot of his comments in a miserable and hostile way, he wouldn't be funny. Rassperri, who was whipping Harpo, or Whitmore from "A day at the races" was an example of someone just being mean and hostile. They sure weren't as funny as Groucho.

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