A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
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36 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

A Half-Full Glass

Author: Eric-62-2 from Morristown, NJ
3 September 1999

"Forum" is one film adaptation of a Broadway musical that is a half-glass of water. On the half-full side we get to see Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford reprising their Broadway roles, and they're joined by a fine supporting cast including Phil Silvers as Lycus (ironically, he would star as Pseudolus in the 1972 Broadway revival) and Buster Keaton in his last film. But even though the film delivers the laughs and opens itself up well from its stage origins (let's face it. That climactic chase in the Broadway version is wonderful but it just wouldn't work on film at all). But what I can't forgive is how nearly three-quarters of Sondheim's outstanding score (his best I think) has been jettisoned to give us a too short running time of barely an hour and a half. And on top of that, why do *both* of Milos Gloriosus's numbers get kept, while Mostel's two best numbers from Broadway, "Pretty Little Picture" and "Free" (which is supposed to be the heart of the show) are gone (along with Gilford's "I'm Calm")? That, I do not understand at all. It's gotten to a point where I purposefully stop the film after Psuedolus falls out of the tree so I can then play Mostel's version of "Free" from the Broadway cast CD (which is where it would have belonged in the film). And it's too bad this wasn't a roadshow movie with an intermission because Mostel's funny Act One closer would have worked great there as well.

All in all it's worth having, but be prepared for your mood to shift from seeing the film as a half-full glass or a half-empty one.

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25 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

It's fast, it's funny, it's Lester

9/10
Author: craigjclark from Haddonfield, NJ
6 July 2001

Recently re-released on DVD, this film is a revelation for anyone who has only seen the pan-and-scan version. So many of the film's visual jokes are lost when you can't see the whole picture, and if there's one thing Richard Lester knows how to do, it's pack in visual jokes. Some people complain that Lester altered the original show too much, cutting songs and dialogue alike, but this is the only way people can see Zero Mostel's fantastic -- and frenetic -- performance, so count your blessings. Michael Hordern is also a hoot as the whipped Senex. Other members of Lester's stock company put in appearances, from Frank Thornton and John Bluthal to the always-welcome Roy Kinnear (as a matter-of-fact gladiator trainer). And Michael Crawford never had it better than when he was in front of Lester's camera.

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24 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

The Good and the Bad

7/10
Author: BroadwayBookworm from United States
15 April 2006

I saw this film when I was a young girl (seven or so) and I adored it. When I was about fourteen, I finally got to see the stage production. When I saw the film again, I realized there were some bad choices made. I think the film has many excellent points and some bad points:

Good:

-For starters, you couldn't have asked for a better cast. I don't just mean Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford (though both are incredible) but casting Buster Keaton was inspired.

-Very accurate portrayal of ancient Rome (up to a point, of course). The only reason I bring it up is because when I took Latin in high school, we studied ancient Rome and I like the research that went into that for the film.

-The chase scene at the end. That's what I remember laughing at the most as a child.

Bad:

-Cutting so many songs, specifically "Free" and Hysterium's number (I must say, Jack Gilford was highly underused in this film).

-The direction of most remaining musical numbers and some scenes.

-Changing the character of Dominia. I don't mind it too much (she does get some good lines in there) but I liked having another strong female character aside from Philia.

Now I have nothing against Richard Lester. In fact, I enjoyed his work in A Hard Day's Night and Help! and I think when it comes to those types of films, he does well. I'm just not completely sure if he was right for this film. He treated the songs like music videos, kind of forgetting that in this case, the songs are being used to tell a story, not just for entertainment. We recently watched parts of the film in my Musical Theater History class, and that was one of the point brought up. He tended toward the fast pace/quick edit direction, which I think worked for "Comedy Tonight", but not much else (especially not "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid"). While I disliked some of his direction on "Lovely", I did like that he repeated (more or less) the same direction in the reprise of the song.

I will say, though, when he's good in the film, he's really good. I can't deny there are parts in the film that are incredibly funny, most notably the chariot chase. I am a bit torn about the film. In the long run, I will probably always love the film and watch it when I get the chance, despite its shortcomings. Still, I wouldn't mind a remake of it. And I think we can safely say this isn't the worst film version of a Sondheim show (A Little Night Music anyone?).

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21 out of 24 people found the following review useful:

Mostel, Silvers, Gilford, and Michael Crawford!

10/10
Author: drednm from United States
23 August 2005

Very funny film version of the smash Broadway musical, but minus most of the music. Sort of a bawdy tribute to slapstick comedy and vaudeville, the film is uniformly wonderful, the pace fast, and the jokes funny. This show was a major success on Broadway for Zero Mostel and decades later for Nathan Lane.

The plot is zany and convoluted and the style of comedy is similar to 60s slapstick used in everything from Tom Jones to Lock Up Your Daughters. Director Richard Lester uses film technique to keep the few musical numbers from stopping the pace of the film, and it works surprisingly well. And the fond look at slapstick (speeded up film, drag, pratfalls, etc.) is especially apt here considering the great Buster Keaton is in the cast.

Mostel reprises here as the wily slave who drives the manic action. He wants to be free. Mostel is just wonderful and gets to use his full bag of tricks as a comedian as well as sing "Comedy Tonight." Equally good is Phil Silvers, who sells slave girls next door to the snooty matron (Patricia Jessel) her husband (Michael Hordern), and their innocent son Hero (Michael Crawford---yes THAT Michael Crawford).

The great Buster Keaton (in his final film) plays Erronius, an old man seeking his long-lost children. Jack Gilford plays a fellow slave, Leon Greene plays the pompous Roman general looking for his bride. Then there are all those slave girls — Annette Andre as the virgin; Inga Neilsen as the mute. Michael Hordern is a surprise as the old lecher and gets to sing, "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid." Jessel is a scream as the hag wife. Lots of scantily clad girls and horny old men.

Hilarious jokes (Mostel as the soothsayer) and sight gags abound. Mostel, Silvers, and Gilford are masters of this sort of broad comedy, and Silvers and Gilford make truly ugly women. Crawford (decades later The Phantom of the Opera) is really funny as the dopey Hero and does most of his own stunts. Greene is also very funny as the overblown general.

Lots of other good performances in small parts: Beatrix Lehman as the 104- year-old with no working organs, Peter Butterworth as the Roman soldier, Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served?) as a Roman citizen, the grunting Janet Webb as Fertilla, Roy Kinnear as the trainer, Alfie Bass as the sentry, Ronnie Brody as the short soldier.

There's so much action here you have to watch this several times to catch all the background jokes. The final madcap chariot race is hilarious. Great fun. And flies everywhere!

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22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Hilarious and well-done

7/10
Author: sunsetboulevard16 from Spain
20 August 2002

Despite having some mistakes, I think this film is overall great, specially in comedy terms. Crazy, dynamic and modern spirit of Lester's direction fits more or less well into "A funny thing happened on the way to the forum"(not as well as it did in "The Knack" or "A Hard Day's Night, but very well anyway). Zero Mostel seems to be a little-bit repressed by Lester, but he does a great job, as the rest of the cast. The beautiful colour photography, some funny songs and a funny storyline with a lot of hilarious visual and verbal jokes makes this a really funny picture. The chariot scene, and with it, all the end of the movie is memorable. Don't miss it.

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18 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

A manic classic.

10/10
Author: johnny-143
17 June 2001

Zero Mostel. Need I say more? Reason enough to rent this movie, despite the hideous 'pan and scan' that makes viewing it a chore. Based on a Broadway musical, it's clever and fast and sexist in that kind of 1960's way. Buxom ladies, lascivious men with comb overs abound. It's fun if you're in the right mood, and Zero Mostel makes it all go down smoothly. I think this (and the Producers) was his best role, and it also has many recognizable supporting players that make you laugh simply by showing their faces.

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12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:

Funny, abbreviated version of the stage play

7/10
Author: LilyDaleLady from Anywheresville, USA
26 November 2005

I hadn't seen this in twenty years, and then on TV (with many cuts and commercials), so I jumped at the chance to view a video recently. "Funny Thing" is just as funny as I remembered it to be -- a marvelous opportunity to see the brilliant and hilarious Zero Mostel, plus a dream cast that includes Jack Guilford, Phil Silvers, Michael Crawford (very young), Roy Kinnear, etc.

Zero Mostel was an incredible Broadway comedic genius, but his most famous work was probably in "Fiddler on the Roof", where it only exits as the wonderful Broadway cast album. When they made the film, they inexplicably passed over Mostel to cast the much lower keyed Topol as Tevye. "Funny Thing" is more brilliant vintage Mostel from roughly the same period, but we get the real thing as he reprises his performance. No one can really approach Mostel for his comic timing, ability to not only sing but sing FUNNY and the expressiveness of his face.

Directed by Richard Lester (Hard Days' Night, Three Musketeers), the film is particularly beautiful in its period setting -- Lester had a spectacular eye for detail - and I honestly believe that this is the most realistic film ever done VISUALLY about Ancient Rome. From the credits, I see it was filmed in Madrid, Spain, which must have an incredible treasure trove of Ancient Roman buildings. The sets, costumes, extras etc. are pitch perfect....with one glaring exception. Like a lot of movies, the filmmakers could not bear to show us an attractive young woman in authentic period costume or makeup, so all the courtesans are circa 1967, right down to their blue eye shadow, false eyelashes, push up bras and back-combed hair!!

I understand from reading other comments that nearly 3/4 of the Stephen Sondheim score was cut for the film, which seems like a shame. However, what's left is very funny and well-integrated into the comedy. Many popular sixties film editing techniques are here -- quick cross cuts, Keystone Kops-like action sequences -- and while a bit dated, they fit the broad comedic tone of the story surprisingly well. The ending title sequence is spectacularly done, with wonderful Roman type and fresco's integrated into it.

Comedy styles go in and out of fashion, so this may not be everyone's taste these days. But having a visual record of a brilliant performer is a highlight and a cultural treasure, and that's what this performance by Zero Mostel truly is. I think most people won't be able to help laughing out loud, even at some of the dumbest and corniest of jokes here, and as usual, the Sondheim score (what remains of it) is delightful and witty.

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15 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

"...something for everyone, a comedy tonight..."

Author: (ajdagreat) from USA
9 June 2001

This movie really does have something for everyone. Beautiful singing for the girls, erotically dancing half-naked prostitutes for the guys, and a lot of laughs for both. The late Zero Mostel was fabulous in this movie. For great music, great laughs, and great-looking women, rent "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."

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14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Oldie but goodie

7/10
Author: Suzanna Davis (suzanna@mind.net) from Ashland OR
8 November 2000

I never saw this in the 60's though I was of an age to...just saw it the other night on television and only watched it for Buster Keaton, whom I have recently developed a great joy in seeing. I enjoyed the whole thing...silly, (sexest,yes, a movie of the 60's), funny stuff. My kids aged 10 and 12 really enjoyed it, too.

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10 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

A Glimpse at Broadway Greatness

Author: theowinthrop from United States
22 April 2004

When I was in High School I had a role in a production of this musical. The film actually stays pretty close to the plotting of the Broadway show, but the truth is that it's story lines are tried and true ancient Roman comic lines from the plays of Plautus and Terence. As such, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM is a useful film - it is one of the few movies that are based on ancient drama. Of Greek tragedy only Sophocles OEDIPUS THE KING and Euripides THE TROJAN WOMEN made it onto the screen. None of Aristophanes' comedies did, although a "western" version of LYSISTRATA (heavily bowdlerized) called THE SECOND GREATEST SEX was produced. Menander has not popped up yet (with only THE GROUCH extant, there is little chance of that). But this Sondheim musical is the sole example of Roman Comedy - specifically the play MILES GLORIOUSUS ("THE BOASTFUL SOLDIER"). When Aristophanes created "Old Comedy" he created a phantasy comedy of kingdoms of birds or dead playwrites holding contests for supremacy. Political satire was also quite important. After the end of Athenian's Golden Age, even Aristophanes had to tone down his plays. Menander introduced a comedy of character and situation. THe Romans followed Menander's example. So A FUNNY THING HAPPENED is actually a comedy of daily regular life in Rome - it is not a realistic view of Roman society, but it is a type of distorted mirror of that society.

It is also important for another reason: Zero Mostel. There is no doubt that Mostel was one of the great Broadway performers of his generation, but his movie record on this is spotty. Mostel was best recalled for his Leopold Bloom in ULYSSES IN NIGHTTOWN, Pseudolus in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED, the lead role in RHINOCEROS (by Ionesco), and (most of all) the original Tevye the Dairy Man in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. But only two of these performances got filmed - Pseudolus in this Richard Lester movie, and (in the 1970s)RHINOCEROS (with his co-star from THE PRODUCERS, Gene Wilder). The real loss for his fans was that Tevye was played by Topol in the Norman Jewison film version of FIDDLER. Topol was very good in the film (and was nominated for an Oscar for his performance), but one wishes Jewison could have used Mostel. It would have been an interesting film record of a major Broadway performance.

Mostel's filmography is an odd one. He first crops up in the early 1950s, most notably in two of Humphrey Bogart's last films, THE ENFORCER and SIROCCO. He (like his friend, and fellow FUNNY THING performer, Jack Gilford) was blacklisted in the McCarthy period, so that Mostel turned to working in nightclubs and developed his interest in painting (his painting always showed great promise). The slow resurrection of his carreer in the late 1950s led to some movie roles of interest, such as THE HOT ROCK, GREAT CATHERINE, THE ANGEL LEVINE, but the films were mostly flops. Only twice, when he starred in THE PRODUCERS and FUNNY THING HAPPENED did a glimmer of the manic power of the actor show up on celuloid, preserving an idea of what he was at his best. For that reason alone A FUNNY THING HAPPENED is worth watching and enjoying.

The supporting cast is great too, including Buster Keaton in one of his last roles as a befuddled old man, Gilford as Hysterium (Mostel's foil in the household where they are both slaves), Phil Silvers as Lycus the procurer (one of Silver's best performances on screen), and the two Michaels (Hordern and Crawford) as Senex and Hero - father and son (and rivals for the same girl). One particular added joy is the ill-fated Roy Kinnear, here playing a gladiatorial trainer who treats the use of a mace as though it were a golf club. A few numbers of the score are cut (FREE, IMPOSSIBLE) but they keep in COMEDY TONIGHT, EVERYBODY OUGHT TO HAVE A MAID, and one of Sondheim's few good love ballads, LOVELY. All this and a look at the power of mare sweat (don't ask - you have to be there). I found this film a great joy.

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