Review: ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum - after the [1962 Stephen Sondheim] stage musicomedy of the same name - will probably stand out as one of the few originals of two repetition-weary genres, the film musical comedy and the toga-cum-sandal 'epic'. Flip, glib and sophisticated, yet rump-slappingly bawdy and fast-paced, Forum is a capricious look at the seamy underside of classical Rome through a 20th-century hipster's shades.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – after the [1962 Stephen Sondheim] stage musicomedy of the same name – will probably stand out as one of the few originals of two repetition-weary genres, the film musical comedy and the toga-cum-sandal ‘epic’. Flip, glib and sophisticated, yet rump-slappingly bawdy and fast-paced, Forum is a capricious look at the seamy underside of classical Rome through a 20th-century hipster’s shades.

Plot follows the efforts of a glib, con-man slave, Pseudolus (Zero Mostel), to cheat, steal or connive his freedom from a domineering mistress, Domina (Patricia Jessel), and his equally victimized master, the henpecked Senex (Michael Hordern). Unwilling ally, through blackmail, is the timorous toady Hysterium (Jack Gilford), another household slave.

Early instrument of Pseudolus’ plot is the callow Hero (Michael Crawford), who, smitten by one of the luscious courtesans peddled by Lycus (Phil Silvers), local flesh supplier, promises Mostel his freedom if he can finagle the ‘virgin’s’ purchase. Plot complications multiply like the film’s pratfalls, however, and the winsome object of Hero’s passion has already been sold to the egomaniacal Miles (Leon Greene), a legion captain of legendary ferocity, who thunders onto the scene to claim the girl.

Interwoven through the plot is the presence of Erronius (Buster Keaton) who, searching for his lost children, unties the knotted situation.

1966: Best Adapted Score

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Production

Quadrangle/United Artists. Director Richard Lester; Producer Melvin Frank; Screenplay Melvin Frank, Michael Pertwee; Camera Nicolas Roeg; Editor John Victor Smith; Music Ken Thorne (arr.); Art Director Tony Walton

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1966. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Zero Mostel Phil Silvers Buster Keaton Jack Gilford Michael Crawford Annette Andre
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