A Night at the Opera appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although it clearly showed its age at times, Opera mostly offered a nice picture.
Sharpness seemed quite good. Occasionally, I felt some wider shots came across as a bit indistinct, but those instances failed to occur frequently. In general, the movie looked well-defined and concise. I saw no concerns with jagged edges or moirť effects, and I also detected only small signs of edge enhancement.
Black levels appeared pretty firm and distinctive. The dark tones looked consistently deep, and contrast was nicely presented. A few low-light shots seemed slightly dense, but mostly the shadows came across as accurately depicted.
Given the age of Opera, one might expect a plethora of print flaws, but not too many interfere with the image. Grain seemed somewhat heavier than normal, and occasional instances of specks, grit and marks cropped up throughout the movie. However, these caused only minimal distractions, as the movie mainly looked pretty clean. At times the movie seemed to skip some frames, as occasional examples of apparently missing material occurred. During the audio commentary, Leonard Maltin mentions the excision of some references to Italy that occurred during World War II; I donít know if these jumps resulted from those cuts, but this seemed possible. In any case, I mostly felt quite pleased with the image and thought it held up nicely after almost 70 years.
While not bad for its era, the monaural soundtrack of A Night at the Opera presented a more mediocre experience, even when I adjusted for its age. Dialogue appeared somewhat dull and murky, though the lines failed to demonstrate any edginess or problems with intelligibility. Music offered surprisingly decent bass response but nonetheless sounded a bit boomy and shrill most of the time, without great clarity. The same went for effects, which lacked much dimensionality or detail.
None of those factors came as a surprise; after all, recording technology remained in its infancy in 1935. The biggest distraction came from the background noise that accompanied the film. Hiss seemed heavier than usual, and some light rumble also came with the audio. Admittedly, Iíve heard many worse soundtracks for films of this era, but I still didnít find much to the audio of Opera to make it stand out from the crowd.
This DVD includes a decent little collection of supplements. We start with an audio commentary with film historian Leonard Maltin. He offers a running, screen-specific piece that starts out really well. Maltin gets into topics connected to the development of the film, some material that was edited during World War II, the cast and participants, the historical context, comparisons to other Marx flicks, the style of director Sam Wood and problems there, and other issues.
For the first act or so, Maltin tosses out lots of great information that helps fill out our understanding of the flick. For example, we hear that although the movie didnít start as a stage production, the Marx Brothers took a live version on the road to polish the material. Unfortunately, Maltin starts to peter out around a third of the way through the movie, and for the final hour, we get only sporadic bouts of decent notes. Maltin goes silent much of the time and also occasionally provides little more than a description of the film. Enough good material appears here to make the commentary worth a listen, but donít expect much after the initial half-hour.
Next we get a new documentary called Remarks on Marx. In this 33-minute and 55-second piece, we see movie clips and archival materials and hear comments from actor Dom DeLuise, director Robert B. Weide, writer Irving Brecher, comedy writer Anne Beatts, writer/director/actor Carl Reiner, film historian Robert Osborne, writer Larry Gelbart and actor Kitty Carlisle Hart. They discuss the origins of the Marx nicknames, their comedic characteristics, their early work and comedic style, their arrival at MGM and their development there, some specifics about Opera and its participants, and various anecdotes.
The program provides a fairly concise examination of the topics, but it does become somewhat redundant when combined with the commentary. Not a ton of new information appears here, which makes it less useful than Iíd like. Nonetheless, it moves briskly and seems generally entertaining. Itís also cool to hear from Carlisle, as itís nice to get the perspective and stories of someone actually involved in the production.
After this we find Groucho Marx on the Hy Gardner Show. In this five-minute and 20-second snippet, Groucho tells of the pranks he and his brothers played on producer Irving Thalberg. We hear the same stories elsewhere, but itís fun to get them from the source.
In addition to the filmís trailer, we follow this with two vintage shorts. The gently comedic ďHow to SleepĒ features Robert Benchley and runs 10 minutes, 38 seconds, while ďSunday Night at the TrocaderoĒ presents a little light comedy and some music during its 20 minutes and 15 seconds. Neither seems terribly entertaining, though the Benchley piece is infinitely better than the lame ďTrocaderoĒ. In any case, they round out the DVD in a nice way since they give us a look at material from the era we might have seen along with the main attraction.
A Night at the Opera seems too inconsistent and slow to turn into a true success. However, the movie enjoys more than a few moments of comic brilliance, and those help make the dull spots more palatable. The DVD presents pretty good picture along with average audio and a fairly decent set of extras. Ultimately, Opera is an inconsistent movie and disc but one with more charms than flaws.
Note that A Night at the Opera can be purchased on its own or as part of a five-DVD set called The Marx Brothers Collection. The latter also includes A Night in Casablanca, A Day at the Races, Room Service, At the Circus, Go West and The Big Store. The last four movies come on two ďdouble featureĒ discs and are exclusive to the boxed set; youíll have to buy it to get them. Since the five-DVD package retails for the same price as Opera, Casablanca and Races combined, it becomes a great deal for fans who already want to own those three flicks; the two other discs essentially then come for free.