Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Film "Funny Thing" Tops Stage

Cleveland Press February, 16, 1967

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" is based on the stage musical of the same name and is a vast improvement over the original

In the theater "Forum" was an expensively mounted burlesque show with original music. The movie turns it into a rollicking, hilarious slapstick show.

What was purely ribald and blue on stage is wacky, fast and gimmicky on screen.

As a musical the show has been improved by eliminating some of the songs -- they weren't all that good.

"Forum" is a 20th Century swinging view of life in ancient Roman suburbia. The plot has been borrowed from that hip writer of ancient times Plautus, who turned out the Anvil Revues of his day.

Zero Mostel repeats his stage role of the fast-talking slave, Pseudolus, who wants to be free but has enough trouble talking fast enough just to stay alive.

Singing "Comedy Tonight," he opens the movie by introducing the other toga-clad characters -- Phil Silvers as a female flesh peddler; Jack Gilford as a fellow slave, cringing variety, Michael Crawford, his master's wide-eyed, love-smitten son.

Crawford is enamored of one of the residents of the house of Silvers, Annette Andre, who is a would-be courtesan, still innocent type. But she has been sold to a Roman captain. Mostel will get the girl for him if his young master will set him free. And before any of that can happen there are escapades involving masquerades, mistaken identities, long lost children, chases and fast escapes.

It's only the beginning of a plot that is too involved to explain, so forget it.

The late Buster Keaton appears in "Forum" wearing his deadpan expression as he runs seven times around the hills of Rome.

Most of the movie belongs to the mountainous Mostel, leaping about like a graceful elephant. Now and then there is a moment of quiet and he will utter a line as only he can. Examining a bottle of wine, he asks with a puzzled expression: "Was one a good year?"

Richard Lester, the man responsible for the Beatles' movies and "The Knack," has directed "Forum" with the same eye for the outrageously antic. If the movie at times doesn't quite hang together, it still is made up of a series of scenes that are individually hilarious.

Among them is a chariot race chase scene to end all chariot races.

Lester's ancient Rome is not the sparklingly new, brightly painted locale of most movies. It is a seedy, smelly, noisy, busy, colorful place. "Forum" does for ancient Rome what "Tom Jones" did for 18th Century London.