A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, 1966
Quick-witted Pseudolus is a slave in ancient Rome. He promises Hero, his master’s son that he will help him acquire the affections of the virgin next door in exchange for his freedom. But first, Pseudolus has to contend with a confused virgin, a sleeping potion, several disguises, a horny slave woman and a really pissed off captain. Madness ensues.
WON AN OSCAR – Best Music
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“The lyingest, cheatingest, sloppiest slave in all Rome!”
Pseudolus wants freedom. Hero wants the Virgin. Lycus owns the Virgin. The Captain buys the Virgin. Pseudolus hides the Virgin. Chaos erupts. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical comedy of errors involving a set of characters entwined in a plot set off by the wily slave, Pseudolus (the talented Zero Mostel).
When young Hero (Michael Crawford) falls in love with the virgin courtesan at Marcus Lycus’ (Phil Silvers) house of flesh, Pseudolus hatches a plan to help Hero obtain Philia (Annette Andre), the fair virgin. Creating an elaborate story of a plague in Greece, Pseudolus convinces smarmy Lycus to release Philia into Hero’s custody while Senex (Michael Hordern), his master and his strict wife Domina (Patricia Jessel) have left for a trip. But Senex returns and mistakes Philia for a new, sexy maid. And Philia mistakes Senex for the Captain, the man that has bought her. And when Domina returns she’s mistaken for a courtesan. As the plot thickens with misunderstandings each character becomes involved in a ruse that Pseudolus desperately tries to fix with the reluctant help of fellow slave Hysterium (Jack Gilford).
The film launches into a song right from the beginning as Pseudolus and cast promise:
The film cuts to various scenes of hilarity, setting the stage for comedy and entertainment. Set in ancient Rome with the comedic sensibilities of present day, the film pokes fun of the past while bringing to light the absurdities of certain relationships in modern day. Role of women, boredom of marriage and the silliness of lust are all up for ridicule in this musical. It’s a production that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it is a musical, the film actually cuts out a number of the songs originally performed on the Broadway, lessening the song count and increasing scenes of dialogue. The stand-out songs definitely include “Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely” and “Bring Me My Bride.”
The cast is outstanding, bringing excellent comedic timing, physical skill and perfect delivery in almost all the scenes. Zero Mostel as Pseudolus is charming, sneaky and fun. The audience enjoys following him, because he is the one character who knows what’s going on. And he should, as he is responsible for most of the events. Mostel’s ability to contort his face into a series of emotions and his incredible energy keeps the film consistently entertaining. Mostel has chemistry with every one of the characters, especially Hysterium, who gets pulled into ridiculous situations such as posing as a dead virgin and a eunuch.
Michael Crawford as Hero is awkward, klutzy and love-sick. Performing most of his stunts, Crawford trips, flies and launches his body down a flight of stairs with reckless abandon that is alarming and awesome. Crawford’s voice, along with Leon Greene (The Captain) and Annette Andre (Philia) stand out as the strongest, with songs that range from sweet to ridiculous. The great Buster Keaton in his last film role plays Erronius, a man in search of his long-kidnapped children. His character appears to be a running gag (he literally runs around a mountain for most of the film) until he arrives at the end with the key to unraveling the twisted events, giving Rome – and the audience – a happy ending.
The climax of the film results in a hilarious and silly chariot chase set to classical music. Involving traps, fire, physical stunts, water gliding and several crashes, it is a highly entertaining and amusing way to end a musical. While the plot gets slightly convoluted at certain points, the material stays light enough to hold the audience’s attention. As the twists and mistaken identities keep growing, the audience remains with Pseudolus; rooting for his eventual freedom and happiness.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a high-energy musical with enough slap-stick, mistaken identities and amusing songs to successfully entertain the audience. Filled with bizarre situations and hilarious performances, the film flows at a steady pace, culminating in an event that brings everything crashing down – literally. With a happy ending that finds every character attaining their goal, the musical delivers on their promise to the audience:
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM