A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Something Familiar, Something Peculiar, Something for Everyone, A Comedy Tonight
Movie musicals can be a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have musicals that have a lasting impact on cinema such as Singing in the Rain and The Music Man. You can also have musicals that are an fun, dancing in the theater shows such as Hairspray and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But then you have movie musicals that make you hang your head in shame such as Rock of Ages, The Phantom of the Opera and Cats. Part of this might be because of how the film is handled, who is involved in the project and how the medium is transferred. What might work on stage might not work out on the silver screen. This brings us to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a 1966 comedy musical film based off of the 1962 Broadway musical of the same name, which of itself is based off of the comedic stories of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. The film was directed by Richard Lester (The Beatle's Help and Superman II) and stars Zero Mostel (The Producers), Michael Crawford (The Phantom of the Opera), Buster Keaton (in his last starring role), Annette Andre (He Who Rides a Tiger), Patricia Jessel (The City of the Dead) and more.
This is a campy, fun and enjoyable movie with a cast of character actors who breath live into their roles in a movie that has nothing large at stake, just a fun time for the audience with no heavy drama or sadness. Let's talk about the film.
The Story and Writing.
The story would follow 'the lyingest, cheatingest, sloppiest slave in all of Rome' Pseudolus (played wonderfully by Zero Mostel) who tries to get his freedom any way that he can. He eventually concocts a scheme to earn his freedom by giving his masters' son Hero (Michael Crawford) the love of his life, a slave girl in a next door brothel named Philia (Annette Andre), in exchange for his freedom. What follows is a snowballing of events where Pseudolus has to try to contend with multiple complications that hinder his plans as well as entertaining subplots such as Roman Captain Miles Gloriosus (Leone Greene) who has come for his bride, Erronius (Buster Keaton) who is trying to find his lost children and more.
One of the great things about the story is that all of the details, all of the side plots connect together perfectly. There are no loose ends, there are no side plots that go nowhere. Everything connects to the main plot and impacts other characters in the story. An example of this would be part way through the film, Erronius, who mistakes Pseudolus as a soothsayer, is told to run around the seven hills of Rome because he thinks his house is haunted. By the time he comes finishes, he returns in time to have an impact on the climax of the film.
Now, comedy is one of those things that can either age really well or it will age poorly over the course of time. Jokes that might have worked in the 1960s might not work as well nearly sixty years later. However, the humor of this film, surprisingly still holds up greatly to this day. With a lot of physical slapstick comedy, sight gags and witty writing, a lot of the jokes in the movie land with high accuracy. It is made funnier when you know that Michael Crawford did most of his own stunts including being flung out of a window.
The characters in this movie, in lack of a better word, are great. Each of the roles in the movie are filled perfectly by their chosen character actors. Zero Mostel is great as a scheming slave who will do anything for freedom, Michael Crawford is hilarious as the dim witted Hero, Patricia Jessel plays the domineering Domina and so on. Even Buster Keaton, who was terminally ill from cancer brings life into the role of Erronius, even doing most of his own stunts. These are all great actors who give their characters a distinct personality and help to bring out a lot of the film's humor.
The cinematography in this movie is great as well, using beautiful establishing shots, quick cuts and pans to show the character interactions, the comedy and story. The opening shot, where Zero Mostel introduces the movie helps establish the city the characters live in, their personality and a sample of what to expect in the film. We quickly learn about what kind of people the characters are in the opening number and it helps to give the film a distinct personality and identity.
The Musical Score
With a musical score written by Stephen Sondheim and adapted to film by Kevin Thorne, it is an understatement to say that the musical score is great. Sondheim created songs that are not only fun to listen to, but will stay in your head long after the movie is over. The one song that you will get stuck in your head is probably going to be Zero Mostel's rendition of 'Comedy Tonight'. While not all of the songs from the original play have been adapted to the movie, what we got is still enough to keep any audience content.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is one of the best examples of a stand out musical. It is a comedic musical filled with a talented cast who fit their roles perfectly and create moments of sheer hilarity. If you have never seen this movie before, I would highly recommend watching this movie at least once. While this movie is not one hundred percent family friendly, this is a movie that anyone of any age would enjoy.
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