Editorial review of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, courtesy of Amazon.com
“Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone: a comedy tonight!” Those words from the opening song pretty much describe the menu in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a frantic adaptation of the stage musical by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove. The wild story, set in ancient Rome, follows a slave named Pseudolus (Zero Mostel, snorting and gibbering) as he tries to extricate himself from an increasingly farcical situation; Mostel and a bevy of inspired clowns, including Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, and Buster Keaton, keep the slapstick and the patter perking. The cast also includes the young Michael Crawford as a love-struck innocent. This project landed in the lap of Richard Lester, then one of the hottest directors in the world after his success with the Beatles’ films. Lester telescoped the material through his own joke-a-second sensibility, and also ripped out some of the songs from Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway score. The result is a pixilated romp and very close to the vaudeville spirit suggested by the title–though anyone with a low tolerance for Zero Mostel’s overbearing buffoonery may be in trouble. Oddly enough, amidst all the frenzy, Lester creates a grungy, earthy Rome that seems closer to the real thing than countless respectable historical films on the subject. –Robert Horton
Something appealing. Something appalling. Something for everyone a comedy tonight! “One of the hottest burlesque shows that ever hit Broadway” (Time) comes to the screen showcasing the enormous talents of Tony Award (r) winner Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford (Cocoon), Buster Keaton and Michael Crawford (Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera”). Featuring keenly clever tunes like “Comedy Tonight” and “Lovely,” this wild Stephen Sondheim musical about a raucous gaggle of ancient Romans is a “flip, glib and sophisticated, yet rump-slapping bawdy and fast-paced look at the seamy underside of classical Rome through hipster’s shades” (Variety).When a wily, witty, lying, lazy, cheating slave discovers that his master’s son is in love with next door a virgin courtesan he promises to help win her heart in exchange for his freedom. But the road to romance is blocked with stunning surprises, cunning disguises and the wildest chariot race ever!