the holidays and we’re feeling it even here in the Sewer. This year
we’re taking stock of the many gifts we’ve gotten from the movies over
the years and celebrating them in the form of a Christmas carol. In our
own special way.

While the traditional 12 Days of Christmas
counts up from one, we think it’s more fun to count down between now
and the big day (and yeah, we built in some slack for ourselves). So
sit back and get ready for some great moments from some great CHUD
favorites, and some possible holiday gift ideas while we’re at it.

On the eighth day til Christmas my true CHUD sent to me…

Eight French pastries

The stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera encapsulates the silly, absurd side of the Marx Brothers’ comedy. When Groucho takes an ocean liner from Italy to New York, Chico and Harpo (along with Allan Jones, replacing the now-gone Zeppo) stow away in his luggage. As the four of them banter in Groucho’s impossibly tiny stateroom, more and more people join the crowd (including an army of waiters, one of whom is carrying the eight pieces of French pastry Groucho ordered), until they finally come tumbling out in a torrent of limbs.

A Night at the Opera was the first fim the Marx Bros made for MGM, and was their follow-up to Duck Soup, which was not just their funniest movie but the funniest movie ever made. A Night at the Opera is a damn close runner-up, even with the awful musical numbers and sappy love story that MGM made them shoehorn into the film. The studio neutered much of the trio’s trademark anarchic humor, changing them from mischeif makers who would cause trouble for anyone whose path they crossed into friendly imps who worked to bring Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones together while saving their craziness for the bad guys. While many Marx Brothers fans roll their eyes at this stuff, it worked at the time – Duck Soup, their most uncontrolled, most absurdist movie had been a flop, while A Night at the Opera was a major hit.

It also was the beginning of the end; A Night at the Opera is the latest of the undeniably great Marx Brothers films. A Day at the Races, their next feature, has many bright spots but the decline is obvious, and it only gets worse over the next few years.

Still, A Night at the Opera is filled with memorable sequences and jokes, from the stateroom to the Sanity Clause contract negotiation to Harpo’s insane antics in the final opera scene. It’s worth sitting through some of the slower stuff (or in this day and age, fast forwarding through it) to get to these classic, influential bits.

You can get your hands on almost all of the Marx Brothers films in two box sets. The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection boasts their first five films: The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horsefeathers and Duck Soup. Click here to buy that.

The second set, The Marx Brothers Collection, features seven films: A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, Room Service, At the Circus, The Big Store, Go West and A Night in Casablanca. The truth is that casual fans only need Opera and Races from this set, but if you have more than a passing interest, these two sets combined give you almost every Marx Brothers film (only Love Happy, their final film, is missing). Click here to order that set.

A really great gift for a Marx Brothers fan (or a way of indoctrinating new fans) is Why A Duck?, a coffe table sized paperback that is heavily illustrated and includes transcripts of the Brothers’ best routines. It’s out of print, but you can buy it used at Amazon by clicking here.