Warner Archives Treats Us To A Night At the Opera

There's been a lot of concern this year about the death of Warner Archives, or even physical media releases in general, from Warner Bros.  Justified concern.  There was the closing of the Warner Archives shop, the lay-offs, Jerry Beck's Tweet, even the Warner Archives podcast wrapped up in April.  It's grim times.  But for now, at least, the Archives are marching on; and this week, they've just released one of my most anticipated titles, the blu-ray release of The Marx Brothers' A Night At the Opera.
1935's Opera is the Brothers' first MGM film.  And I'm not going to repeat the most constantly explained shift in styles between their Paramount and later films.  But what struck me during this latest watch is how much straight leading man Allan Jones mixes in with the Marxes.  Sure, it's Thalberg's plan that the Brothers get involved with the young couple's struggles and champions their goals as their own.  But here Jones is also moving towards them, taking on the Zeppo role, hiding inside Groucho's trunk with Chico and Harpo, wearing their ridiculous bearded disguises with them and gleefully partaking in their over-the-top feast in steerage.  And I wonder having the straight man get his hands dirty is part of why this film is often held up as high as their Paramount classics, as opposed to their dwindling later films.  It just leaves you with a little extra feeling of more good will engendered in the classic Marxist anarchy.
And if you're in an indulgent mood for musings that struck me during my latest watch, maybe you'll also allow me to point out that this film has an awful lot in common with Friday the 13th part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan.  Both films promise a big NY adventure in its title (the titular night at the opera is at the Met), but don't actually arrive until the final act.  Instead, both films start with a brief prologue before spending the bulk of their time running around causing chaos on a ship that's slowly drifting towards Manhattan.  The parallels continue but get less helpful: both films center around a pair of young lovers who are only free together once they've escaped the villains' relentless pursuits, both films have characters who put on elaborate musical performances on their respective boats (remember J.J.?), both films have radio broadcast scenes, romantic rendezvouses scheduled and disrupted in staterooms, characters going overboard... but seriously, it is surprising how much of this movie is really about stowing away on an ocean liner.  It's practically Monkey Business part 2.  But when they finally do get to wreck havoc on Il Trovatore, the opera does make for an impressive showcase finale.
Warner Bros first released A Night At the Opera as a special edition DVD in 2004, separately and as part of their impressive Marx Brothers Collection boxed set, which bundled up all of their MGM films up to and including A Night In Casablanca.  As of this writing, those are the only two of those seven films that have made it to blu-ray.  In fact, this film was originally a part of the Criterion Collection, spine #31A in their laserdisc line.  I no longer have that one, but I still have the DVD box, plus of course Warner Archives new blu, which was just released this week.  Oh, and no, the long lost Italian footage hasn't been found; it's still missing.
2004 Warner Bros DVD top; 2021 Warner Archives BD bottom.
But I am happy to report that this is a new transfer, not just the same old master slapped onto an HD disc (which, honestly, I wouldn't've been unhappy with).  It may well be from the same source, but it's a new transfer.  We've widened from 1.33 to 1.37, which reveals little slivers along the top and left, but does more to undo a horizontal pinch.  But most notably, it's a much clearer, sharper image.  In terms of HD, yes, now we've got a sharper image with fine film grain instead of smudgy compression artifacts.  And the image has been cleaned of debris and noise.  Look at the white spot on the porter's neck, or the vertical slit under the painting, disappear between the third and fourth captures.  And those edges.  What once was grungy looks fresh and new again.

The original mono track has also been bumped up to DTS-HD.  Both discs offer optional English subtitles, though the DVD did also have French and Spanish subs, which we've lost.  Sorry, foreigners!
And the extras? Extras are great! Both discs include a gap-filled but otherwise enthusiastic commentary by Leonard Maltin, who'd originally written the liner notes for the Criterion laserdisc.  And there's a nice, roughly half hour documentary.  I've already talked about it in my Marx Brothers' documentaries post, but I'll reiterate that it has a variety of fans, writers and experts speaking on it, and a great interview with star Kitty Carlisle.  There's also a brief, television interview with Groucho, the trailer, and a couple short Warner Bros films from the period.  In fact, the DVD had two - a comedy and a travelogue - and the blu adds one more (another travelogue).
So maybe this isn't quite the home video event that the Animal Crackers restoration was; but this is a film that we've desperately needed on blu, and Warner Bros did a first class job.  Let's hope they never stop.

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