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 release poster
Directed by Richard Lester
Produced by Melvin Frank
Screenplay by
Based on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
1962 play
by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Cinematography Nicolas Roeg
Edited by John Victor-Smith
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • October 16, 1966 (1966-10-16) (United States)
  • December 14, 1966 (1966-12-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
99 minutes
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
Language English
Budget $2 million
Box office $3.4 million

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 B.C.) – 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.

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 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. In an attempt to fake out the great Gloriosis and buy enough time to come up with a plan that will give Philia to Hero, Pseudolus and his overseer, Hysterium (Jack Gilford), stage a sit-down orgy for fourteen. 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 Gloriosis announces his intention of cutting "her" heart out as a memorial, an hilarious chase across Rome and on into the countryside ensues. Eventually, Miles Gloriosis collars Hero, the real Philia, Hysterium, Marcus Lycus, Pseudolus, and Gymnasia, the silent woman courtesan fancied by Pseudolus, and brings them back to Rome to untangle the skein of deception and see that justice is done.

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; Marcus Lycus is spared from execution for breaking a marriage contract; Miles Gloriosis 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.


Cast notes


  • "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)[5]

Sondheim's music was adapted for the film version of Forum by Ken Thorne, who previously worked with The Beatles on Help! (1965).[6][7] Thorne won the only award that Forum received, a 1967 Academy Award for "Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment".[8]


Although the musical had originally been written with Phil Silvers in mind, Zero Mostel starred on Broadway as Pseudolus,[9] and Richard Lester was his choice to direct the film version. Other directors who were considered included Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Mike Nichols.[6]

It was filmed at the Samuel Bronston Studios in Madrid, Spain, and on location around that city,[10] on an estimated budget of $2 million. Filming took place from September to November 1965.[11]

Jack Gilford was also re-creating his stage role, as Hysterium,[9] 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.[12][13]

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 &ndash: 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.[14]

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.[6]

George Martin, who with Ethel Martin is credited with the choreography of the film,[15] was the assistant to choreographer Jack Cole on Broadway.[16] (Jerome Robbins also did some uncredited work on the stage show.[9]) 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.

Forum premiered in New York City on October 16, 1966[17] and in London on December 14 of that year.[18] It went into general release in January 1967. It received about $3 million in rentals in the U.S.[11]

Award and honors[edit]

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".[8]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ IMDB Buster Keaton
  4. ^ IMDB Roy Kinnear
  5. ^ "Songs" on the Internet Broadway Database
  6. ^ a b c Jessica Handler "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (TCM article)
  7. ^ IMDB Ken Thorne
  8. ^ a b IMDB Awards
  9. ^ a b c IBDB "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
  10. ^ IMDB Filming locations
  11. ^ a b IMDB Business data
  12. ^ IMDB Tony Walton
  13. ^ IBDB Tony Walton
  14. ^ Freese, Gene Scott (2014) Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s (Second Edition). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company ISBN 978-1-4766-1470-0
  15. ^ TCM Full credits
  16. ^ IBDB George Martin
  17. ^ TCM Overview
  18. ^ IMDB Release dates

External links[edit]