A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (film)
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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a 1966 British-American DeLuxe Color musical comedy film, based on the stage musical of the same name. It was inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251–183 BC) – specifically Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria – and tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door.
|A Funny Thing Happened|
on the Way to the Forum
theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Lester|
|Produced by||Melvin Frank|
|Based on||A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum|
by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
|Music by||Stephen Sondheim|
|Edited by||John Victor-Smith|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$3.4 million|
The film was directed by Richard Lester, with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford reprising their stage roles. It also features Buster Keaton in his last motion picture role; Phil Silvers, for whom the stage musical was originally intended; and Lester favorites Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern and Roy Kinnear.
The musical was adapted for the screen by Melvin Frank and Michael Pertwee from the stage musical of the same name with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The film's cinematography was by Nicolas Roeg.
In the city of Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero, Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) is "the lyingest, cheatingest, sloppiest slave in all of Rome", whose only wish is to buy his freedom from his master's parents, the henpecked Senex (Michael Hordern) and his shrewish wife, Domina (Patricia Jessel). When he finds out that his master, Senex's handsome but dim son Hero (Michael Crawford), has fallen in love with Philia (Annette Andre), a beautiful virgin courtesan from the house of Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers), buyer and seller of beautiful women next door, Pseudolus makes a deal: he will get the girl for Hero in return for his freedom. Senex and Domina leave to visit her mother, and Hero uses the time to act.
Going to the House of Lycus, Pseudolus states that he bought his freedom this morning following the death of his uncle, the well-known elephant breeder on the last day of breeding season, and seeks a wife. Lycus trots out a host of lovely women: the twins, a fiery African, a sultry Asian, and the silent woman Gymnasia, whom Pseudolus is able to communicate with using strange chirps, grunts and gestures. He wants her, but Hero - who has come along to further his education - only wants Philia.
Unfortunately, the virgin has been sold to the great Roman soldier Captain Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene), who even now is on his way from conquering Crete to claim her as his bride. In an attempt to fake out the great Gloriosus and buy enough time to come up with a plan that will give Philia to Hero, Pseudolus tricks Lycus into thinking she's dying of a strange plague. He also learns that Gymnasia has been sold and must come up with a plan to save her. A soldier for Miles arrives, telling Lycus Miles is on his way, and that his new bride had better be perfect or the Captain will burn down his house, throw his women to his men, and kill him! Lycus, desperate to escape that fate, bumps into Pseudolus and the two strike a deal: he'll pretend to be Lycus. Moving the women to their house, he and his overseer, Hysterium (Jack Gilford), stage a sit-down orgy for fourteen for Miles and his officers. This gives Hero and Philia time to get to know one another. When Senex comes home unexpectedly—the bust of Domina they were taking to her mother needs repair—and he runs into Philia. She thinks he's the captain and he thinks she's a new maid.
Pseudolus pours mare sweat on Senex to convince him he needs to wash before "training" the new maid, and he goes next door to the House of Erronius to bathe. Erronius, who has been away for years searching for his son and daughter who were stolen as infants by pirates, comes home, and hearing Senex in the bath, thinks his house is haunted. Pseudolus pretends to be a soothsayer and convinces Erronius he must run seven times around the seven hills of Rome to banish the ghost. He sets off.
Pseudolus informs the captain that his bride is dead and blackmails Hysterium into masquerading as the corpse of Philia to fool the captain and send him heartbroken away; but things go wrong at every turn.
When the supposedly dead "Philia" suddenly comes back to life after the great Gloriosus announces his intention of cutting "her" heart out as a memorial, a chase across Rome and on into the countryside ensues. Hero, thinking Philia is dead, goes to throw himself to the lions, but they're out of town, and so he volunteers to be a practice target for the gladiators. Philia, hearing this, goes to the Temple of Venus to offer herself as a sacrifice. Pseudolus saves Hero, Hero saves Philia, and they ride off in a chariot. Eventually, Miles Gloriosus collars Hero, the real Philia, Hysterium, Marcus Lycus, Pseudolus, and Gymnasia, the toweringly statuesque but silent courtesan fancied by Pseudolus, and brings them back to Rome to untangle the skein of deception and see that justice is done. Erronius, finishing his last run, appears and sees the ring he gave the "soothsayer" on Hysterium's finger—seven geese around a center stone—and thinks "she" is his daughter.
In the end Hero gets Philia; Senex's next-door neighbor Erronius (Buster Keaton) learns that Philia and Miles Gloriosus are in fact his long-lost children, they both wear the same ring; Marcus Lycus is spared from execution for selling a free-born woman—Philia; Miles Gloriosus takes the gorgeous Gemini twins as his consorts; and Pseudolus gets his freedom, the beautiful Gymnasia to be his wife, and a dowry of 10,000 minae, compliments of Marcus Lycus.
- Veteran film comedian Buster Keaton was terminally ill with cancer at the time of filming. Nevertheless, the 70-year-old actor was able to do many of his own stunts in the film, to the amazement of the cast and crew. Forum would be his final film appearance.
- Future Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee, brother of screenwriter Michael Pertwee, appears briefly as Crassus, who reports that there is no plague in Crete. He had originally played the part of Lycus in the 1963 West End stage production.
- Roy Kinnear appeared in eight other films directed by Richard Lester: Help! (1965), How I Won the War (1967), The Bed Sitting Room (1969), The Three Musketeers (1973), The Four Musketeers (1974), Juggernaut (1974), Royal Flash (1975) and The Return of the Musketeers (1989).
- "Comedy Tonight" — Pseudolus and Company
- "Lovely" — Philia and Hero
- "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid" — Pseudolus, Senex, Lycus, and Hysterium
- "Bring Me My Bride" — Miles Gloriosus and Company
- "Lovely" (reprise) — Pseudolus and Hysterium
- "Funeral Sequence" — Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Company
- "Finale" — Company
Songs from the original Broadway score which were cut for the film: "Love I Hear" (Hero), "Free" (Pseudolus and Hero), "Pretty Little Picture" (Pseudolus, Hero, Philia), "I'm Calm" (Hysterium), "Impossible" (Senex and Hero), "That Dirty Old Man" (Domina) and "That'll Show Him" (Philia).
Sondheim's music was adapted for the film version of Forum by Ken Thorne, who previously worked with The Beatles on Help! (1965). Thorne won the only award that Forum received, a 1967 Academy Award for "Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment".
Although the musical had originally been written with Phil Silvers in mind, Zero Mostel starred on Broadway as Pseudolus, and Richard Lester was his choice to direct the film version. Other directors who were considered included Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Mike Nichols. It was filmed at the Samuel Bronston Studios in Madrid, Spain, and on location around that city, on an estimated budget of $2 million. Filming took place from September to November 1965.
Jack Gilford was also re-creating his stage role, as Hysterium, and there are other connections to the Broadway production. Tony Walton, who designed the production, including the costumes, was also the designer of the Broadway show. For Walton, who was married to Julie Andrews from 1959 to 1967, Forum came at the beginning of both his film and stage careers: it was his second Broadway production, and his third film - he had designed costumes for Mary Poppins in 1964, and did the overall production design of Fahrenheit 451 in 1966. Bob Simmons, a renowned stunt coordinator, designed and performed many of the action scenes in the film.
Forum is remarkable as one of the few films in which Buster Keaton appeared where he employed a double. Keaton was suffering from terminal cancer at the time – a fact of which he was not aware – and Mick Dillon stood-in for him for the running sequences. However, Buster performed the pratfall after running into a tree in the chase sequence near the end of the film himself, as no one could properly imitate his pratfalls.
The animated end credits created by Richard Williams feature many houseflies, a reminder of the fly problem the production suffered through when the fruits and vegetables which festooned the set were left out to rot overnight after the end of the shooting day.
George Martin, who with Ethel Martin is credited with the choreography of the film, was the assistant to choreographer Jack Cole on Broadway. (Jerome Robbins also did some uncredited work on the stage show.) Other members of the Forum team are notable as well. Cinematographer Nicholas Roeg moved up to the director's chair to make films such as Walkabout (1971), Don't Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) with David Bowie.
The movie obtained $8.5 million in actual box office domestic gross receipts during 1966–67. When adjusted for current (2019) movie costs, its box office revenue would be equivalent to $69.3 million. It was the 26th-most-popular film shown in U.S. theaters that year.
The film received about $3 million in rentals in the U.S.
Reviews from critics were mostly positive, with the film presently wielding a score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Variety wrote, "Flip, glib and sophisticated, yet rump-slappingly bawdy and fast-paced, 'Forum' is a capricious look at the seamy underside of classical Rome through a 20th-Century hipster's shades [...] Generally assayed with satirical thrust and on-target accuracy, almost all of the performances are top-rung and thoroughly expert." In a generally favorable review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby praised the "handsomely realistic settings" and determined that "Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics hold up well," but also found it "hard to decide whether Mr. Lester has gone too far, or not far enough, in translating into film terms the carefully calculated nonsense originally conceived for the theater. He's done a lot of tricky things — with his penchant for quick cutting and juxtaposition of absurd images — but there are times when this style seems oddly at variance with the basic material, which is roughly 2,000 years older than the motion-picture camera."
Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film moved so fast that "I simply couldn't ingest it all in one viewing," but "I was able to register enough to realize I was enjoying myself hugely. 'Forum' is a bawdy, ribald romp that rips Rome's Great Society right up the middle, an out-and-out burlesque show that may even—underneath all the frenetic foolery, the flourishing of floozies and the pratfalls—have something satirical and cynical to tell us about nations and why they fall." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post raved, ""Bawdy, gaudy and lawry, how funny! 'A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum' has arrived at the Cinema, where laughter should be exploding for months."
Brendan Gill of The New Yorker wrote "I laughed my way mindlessly through ninety percent of the picture," calling the jokes "both awful and exactly right for Mostel, Silvers and company." A review in the UK's Monthly Film Bulletin thought that Lester's fast-moving direction style made for a "curious effect of dislocation," writing that Mostel and Silvers "constantly find the editor snapping at their tails while Lester dashes down some attractive byway and the laugh they probably would have got is stopped short." The review concluded, "Apart from the long chase at the end, which is boring and irrelevant, this is an odd, good-humoured mess of a film, in spite of everything decidedly likeable."
A negative review came from Rex Reed who opined in his review of the tape version of the film's soundtrack album that "the real wit in Stephen Sondheim's score for the very funny Broadway burlesque A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was all but totally demolished in Richard Lester's vulgar, witless, and over-stylized film version. All but a handful of the marvelous Sondheim songs were ditched, the few remaining musical numbers were so integrated into the action that they took a back seat to Lester's self-conscious visual gimmicks, and the riotous Zero Mostel was nearly crowded out of the plot completely."
Awards and honorsEdit
Music director Ken Thorne received an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment in 1967. In addition, the film was nominated that year for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy".
- "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, Thames Television documentary (aired in the U.S. on Turner Classic Movies)
- "Songs" on the Internet Broadway Database
- Jessica Handler "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (TCM article)
- IBDB "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
- Freese, Gene Scott (2014) Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s (Second Edition). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company ISBN 978-1-4766-1470-0
- TCM Full credits
- IBDB George Martin
- "Overview". Turner Classic Movies.
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Film Reviews: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum". Variety: 6. September 28, 1966.
- Canby, Vincent (October 17, 1966). "Screen: 'Funny Thing' Happens Here". The New York Times: 48.
- Scheuer, Philip K. (December 4, 1966). "'Fahrenheit' Freezes Blood, 'Forum' a Funny Thing". Los Angeles Times. Calendar, p. 11.
- Coe, Richard L. (December 24, 1966). "'Funny Thing' A Funny Thing". The Washington Post: D7.
- Gill, Brendan (October 22, 1966). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 165.
- "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 34 (398): 41. March 1967.
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on IMDb
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at AllMovie
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the TCM Movie Database
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the American Film Institute Catalog
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Rotten Tomatoes