Friday, March 6, 2015

#1,663. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

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 serving the household of Senex (Michael Hordern) and his wife Domina (Patricia Jessel), is desperate to buy his freedom. So, when his master’s dim-witted son Hero (Michael Crawford) professes his love for Philia (Annette Andre), a courtesan working 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 very afternoon. In addition, Hysterium (Jack Gilford), chief slave of the Senex family, 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 own 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 is perfect as the fast-talking Pseudolos, a slave whose quick thinking gets him out of many tricky situations (to prevent Philia from being sold, he somehow convinces Lycus that she’s been stricken with plague). 

Matching Zero every step of the way is Phil Silvers as the equally conniving Lycus, and Jack Gilford makes for an excellent foil; his Hysterium is 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 Pseudolos even convinces Hysterium  to put 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, both of whom 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.

1 comment:

Tony said...

This movie is hilarious! Some of the routines between Zero and Jack Gilford are almost too funny. I saw it when I was 10 or 12 years old on television and laughed my butt off. And I saw it last year and laughed as much as ever.