This film takes place in the city of Rome sometime 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 dominating 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 procurer (buyer and seller of beautiful women) Marcus Lycus (Phil Silvers) next door, Pseudolus makes a deal: he will get the girl for Hero in return for his freedom. 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. Pseudolus blackmails his overseer, Hysterium (Jack Gilford) into masquerading as the corpse of Philia to fool the captain, but things go wrong at every turn.
In the end, the boy gets the girl; Senex’s next-door neighbor Erronius (Buster Keaton) finds that Philia and Miles Gloriosus are in fact his long-lost children; and Pseudolus gets his freedom, a beautiful concubine to be his wife, and a dowry of 10,000 minae, compliments of Marcus Lycus
I remember the theater department in college putting this show on. Now, it wasn’t this lush musical, but rather an intimate closed setting version. Still, it was quite entertaining and I seem to recall everyone loving it. Such a shame that this film adaptation didn’t work as well.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum appears to be making an attempt to take the classic Roman tale and infuse it with the popular comedy of that time, that of Mel Brooks. Please note that Brooks has nothing to do with this film. It just seems as if they were influenced by his comedy.
With that formula, I was expecting a laugh riot, but instead, I got a snorefest. Don’t get me wrong, there are some moments here and there.
For instance, the introduction of the courtesans made me sit up and take notice, as did a couple of the jokes here and there, but not much else.
They say this is a musical, but I find it hard to categorize it as such. The songs are few and far between. From what I’ve read, they cut most of them out. That may have been the downfall of this picture. When you take the music out of a musical, you all but strip it of its life force, as this picture proves.
I can’t say that the acting is over-the-top, but at the same time, I can’t say that it was subdued. Other than Michael Crawford, it seems that everyone was trying too hard, and it was painful to watch at times.
When all the dust clear and you wake up from the coma that this film induces when you watch it, it is apparent that it could be much worse. While not great, being boring doesn’t constitute a bad film. however, they should replace funny in the title with boring because this film, while containing a few funny moments here and there, is more on the snoozefest side. I cannot in good faith recommend this, unless you’ve seen the stage play and just want to see what the film interpretation is like.
3 out of 5 stars