A reel of the Marx Brothers classic A Night At The Opera discovered in a Hungarian archive has reportedly yielded some some hitherto thought lost footage from the comedy classic.
Racz Tamas, an 18-year old student was viewing the first reel of the film at the Hungarian Film Archive, when he noticed several lines and alternate shots not in the commonly seen version of the film.
In an email to the Marx Brothers fansite Marxology, Tamas detailed his discovery-
I watched the first reel of the print of the Hungarian National Film Archive, to find two additional shots, two additional sentences, and different angles of already known shots. The first thing that absolutely shocked me was that when Harpo and Chico are backstage, the music of the opera was loud, and instead of the shot of Lasparri singing in his white clothes, they showed a man singing who wasn’t him, and he wore different clothes. Then Chico said to Allan Jones “Someday you’re gonna be where Lasparri is”, but the man who was singing wasn’t Lasparri at all.
The other shock was when Kitty Carlisle was singing. It was her, but she sang a different part of the opera, and she was only shown above the waist, rather than what is in the DVD version, where she is standing, and we can see a man behind her. In the scene, when Groucho and Chico first meet, when they are standing on Lasparri, I found two additional sentences.
Chico: I’m a stranger here myself.
This line is in the DVD edition, but right after it you can see a jump cut.
Groucho: Aren’t you an italian?
Chico: No, only my mama and papa is italian.
Groucho: What’s his name? (referring to the tenor he wants to sign)
Chico : It’s an italian name. (This was cut) I can’t pronunce it.
Originally released in 1935, Night At The Opera was re-edited with the outbreak of World War Two to have any mention of the opening scenes’ locale of Italy excised. Among the footage removed was a three minute long opening sequence establishing its Italian setting in which the camera moved through the town while numerous townsfolk sang portions of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci before finally arriving at a hotel lobby, where the film now begins. Unfortunately, studio MGM also cut the original negative and did not preserve the footage. It has since been considered lost.
Tamas also reported that although the print had the dialogue scenes referencing Italy, the opening montage featuring the singing townspeople was not in this version.
In an interview with Emulsion Compulsion, Tamas stated that he first arranged to screen the opening reel of the film at the archives when he learned that they had acquired their print before World War II. However, as the film started, he discovered that the missing singing townspeople opening was not there. He “decided to watch the first reel because I paid for it.”
I didn’t expect anything new. Then I saw the yet-unknown shot of ‘Lasparri’ who isn’t Lasparri at all, and I got a weird feeling. As the reel went on it contained extra sentences and shots I’ve discussed earlier. Therefore I think I’ve found something, even if it’s not what I was hoping for.
With this print lacking the singing townspeople opening, it clearly is not a pre-war edit that somehow escaped the editor’s scissors. However, the inclusion of new and some different footage raises questions about this print’s origins. Tamas theorizes that perhaps the opening scene was not removed during World War II, but earlier.
I presume that this [print] is the original cut, and not an after war one. My theory is that Thalberg cut that scene [with the villagers] after the failed preview screening, to make the movie tighter. It is a rough cut, which is why I think it was made by Thalberg, who was in a hurry to get the reel ready for a second screening.
Whatever its origina, Tamas also stated that he has had a hard time getting anyone at the archive to do anything with the print. He avoided going the regular route in announcing his discovery, opting instead to contact Marxology with the hopes of gaining some publicity for his find that would ultimately get rights holder interested.
I deliberately didn’t contact the press, because the only thing they can do is to write down, ‘somebody in a far away country has seen a print of a classic movie, but he can’t do anything with it, so that’s that.’
So far, Tamas’ discovery has not been confirmed. Plus there’s the mystery of the alternate shots in the print. Where did they come from and how did they end up in a film archive half a world away from Hollywood?
Hopefully, someone over at Warner Home Video will take notice and launch a further investigation. It is not often that new footage is found for films this old, and one can only hope that