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
Forum poster.jpg
theatrical poster
Directed by Richard Lester
Produced by Melvin Frank
Screenplay by Melvin Frank
Michael Pertwee
Based on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum 
by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Starring Zero Mostel
Jack Gilford
Phil Silvers
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Cinematography Nicolas Roeg
Editing by John Victor-Smith
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • 16 October 1966 (1966-10-16) (United States)
  • 14 December 1966 (1966-12-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time 99 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $3,390,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a 1966 farce musical comedy film, based on the stage musical of the same name.

Inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus (251-183 B.C.) – specifically Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria – it 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.

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, 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 with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. They rearranged the plot and cut most of the songs. The movie was not well received when first released, and, although it did turn a profit, the creators of the musical have frequently expressed their dissatisfaction with it.[citation needed]


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 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. 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.


Cast notes
  • Veteran film comedian Buster Keaton was terminally ill with cancer at the time of filming, but did many of his own stunts in the film.[2]


  • "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

Sondheim's music was adapted for the film version of Forum by Ken Thorne, who previously worked with The Beatles on Help! (1965).[3][4] Thorne won the only award that Forum received, a 1967 Academy Award for "Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment".[5]


Zero Mostel starred on Broadway as Pseudolus,[6] and Richard Lester was his choice to direct the film version. Other directors who were considered included Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Mike Nichols.[3]

It was filmed at the Samuel Bronston Studios in Madrid, Spain, and on location around that city,[7] on an estimated budget of $2 million. Filming took place from September to November 1965.[8]

Jack Gilford was also re-creating his stage role, as "Hysterium",[6] 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.[6][9]

Bob Simmons, a renowned stunt coordinator, designed and performed many of the action scenes in the film.

Jon Pertwee, who makes a brief appearance as Crassus (an old friend of Marcus Lycus who informs him that there is no plague in Crete), is the brother of screenwriter Michael Pertwee. Jon Pertwee was also cast in the original London production starring Frankie Howerd playing Marcus Lycus a role that Phil Silvers plays in the film. Jon Pertwee would go on to portray the third incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who from 1970 to 1974.

George Martin, who with Ethel Martin is credited with the choreography of the film,[10] was the assistant to choreographer Jack Cole on Broadway.[11] (Jerome Robbins also did some uncredited work on the stage show as well.)[6]

Forum premiered in New York City on 16 October 1966[12] and in London on 14 December of that year.[13] It went into general release in January 1967. It received about $3 million in rentals in the U.S.[8]


Music director Ken Thorne received an Academy Award for "Oscar Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment" in 1967. In addition, the film was nominated that year for a Golden Globe as "Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy".[5]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  2. ^ Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, Thames Television documentary (aired in the U.S. on Turner Classic Movies)
  3. ^ a b Jessica Handler "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (TCM article)
  4. ^ IMDB Ken Thorne
  5. ^ a b IMDB Awards
  6. ^ a b c d IBDB "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
  7. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  8. ^ a b IMDB Business data
  9. ^ IBDB Tony Walton
  10. ^ TCM Full credits
  11. ^ IBDB George Martin
  12. ^ TCM Overview
  13. ^ IMDB Release dates

External links[edit]