Directed By: Richard Lester
Starring: Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Buster Keaton
Tag line: "Something for Everyone!"
Trivia: This was Buster Keaton's final film before his death on February 1, 1966 at the age of 70
It’s the height of the Roman Empire, and Pseudolos (Zero Mostel), a slave belonging to Senex (Michael Hordern) and his wife Domina (Patricia Jessel), is trying desperately to buy his freedom. So, when his master’s dim-witted son Hero (Michael Crawford) professes his love for Philia (Annette Andre), a courtesan residing in the brothel just next door, Pseudolos seizes the opportunity and makes a deal with the young man: in exchange for helping him win Philia’s heart, Hero promises to make Pseudolos a free man. But as the overzealous slave soon discovers, wooing Philia isn’t going to be easy. For one, the brothel’s owner, Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers), has already sold her to Rome’s greatest general, Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene), who is coming to collect her that afternoon. In addition, Hysterium (Jack Gilford), chief slave of the Senex household, has vowed to Domina that he’ll keep Hero far away from the “den of iniquity” next door. Refusing to give up, the deceitful Pseudolos uses every trick in the book to bring the star-crossed lovers together, but will he himself get caught up in his web of lies?
Based on the popular stage musical of the same name, director Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum features an incredible cast of funnymen, all of whom were at the top of their game. Zero Mostel was the perfect choice to play the fast-talking Pseudolos, a slave whose quick thinking can get him out of any tricky situation (hoping to prevent Philia from being sold, he convinces Lycus that she’s suffering from the plague). Matching him every step of the way is Phil Silvers as the equally conniving Lycus, and Jack Gilford makes for an excellent foil, a nervous wreck of a man who, in order to keep his position, has no alternative but to go along with Pseudolos’ hair-brained schemes (at one point he even puts on a dress). In addition to these three, the great Buster Keaton also appears, playing the elderly Erronius, a neighbor who, for 20 years, has been searching for his son and daughter, who were kidnapped by pirates when they were infants. Terminally ill with cancer at the time it was made, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum proved to be Keaton’s final screen appearance.
With its energetic musical numbers (Mostel’s rendition of “Comedy Tonight”, which kicks off the movie, is alone worth the price of admission) and Richard Lester’s frantic approach to the material (having made a name for himself directing two Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, Lester once again utilizes rapid edits and handheld cameras to keep things moving at a breakneck pace), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a mad romp through Ancient Rome that, if it doesn’t wear you out first, will give you plenty to laugh about.