Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (1966)
After sitting through a slew of shockingly lengthy epic musicals, it’s nice to sit down to a 90-minute romp that actually opens by assuring you it’s all just silly fun bullshit. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the tale of an ancient Roman slave named Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) who concocts a plan to earn his freedom that runs through every wacky comedy trope you’ve ever heard of until it becomes The Fast and the Furious with chariots. Woo hoo!
Summarizing this flick’s plot seems like a stupid idea, as I’ll just keep squeezing the fun out of every gag or twist or case of mistaken identity. I’m going to tell you that Pseodolus intends to be freed in exchange for hooking his master Hero (Michael Crawford) up with the beautiful courtesan Philia (Annette Andre), but she’s unfortunately already been purchased by Captain Miles Gloriosus (Leon Greene), who is due to return momentarily. And I will stop right there, before the shenanigans and tomfoolery begin.
Today’s jinks forecast: high.
I tend to find these “fifty comedic coincidences on top of each other” stories both entertaining and exhausting, and while a lot of the jokes in Forum made me laugh, I did start to tune out a little bit before the climax, right around Misunderstanding #40.
“But I thought that you thought that he thought… UH OH!”
I can’t think of a third paragraph. Nothing in this movie is designed to be analyzed, and it knows this and celebrates it. Zingers are witty! Faces are funny! Stunts are crazy! But those aren’t story things. Turn your brain off and enjoy.
Here’s a GIF of physics getting drunk. Whee!
Shit, you guys, this is also a hard movie to break down the acting, since everybody’s just really funny all the time. So, in lieu of listing twelve names and saying “lotsa chuckles!” I’ll just hit my favorite characters. First up, Zero Mostel as Pseudolus is a goddamn riot. He’s a blissful trickster, quick with the wisecracks, and the perfect candidate to guide us through all this zany junk.
He’s talking to me!
Michael Crawford is a toga full of awkwardness as the lovestruck Hero. He’s the ideal audience stand-in in the same whiny, clueless way as Luke Skywalker, but he’s much more endearing and fun.
Aww, I could pinch him!
The object of Hero’s affection is Philia, who can’t add or spell and has been raised all her life to be a fuck machine, and Annette Andre does a great job at portraying this without playing it too ditzy.
Your junk+his junk=warranty void.
Leon Greene is a big manly man’s man as Captain Miles Gloriosus. He’s an arrogant pile of muscles and beard that you can’t help but love, and I want him to have his own movie.
I just came.
Also, Buster Keaton is in this. Huh. Neat.
After this role, he went on to star in… the ground, aww.
And Phil Silvers is good and Jack Gilford is good and Michael Hordern is good and thumbs up, everyone.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
So here’s something strange about this week’s musical: not counting reprises, it barely has five songs. The last film I encountered this light on tunes was Road to Singapore, but those were whimsical asides with little to no bearing on the plot. Forum‘s numbers are integrated into the story, and yet, why so few? Welp, it turns out that a whopping seven songs were cut from the stage version for this adaptation. Why? I do not know, but now is as good a time as any to mention that this film was directed by Richard Lester, the man who thought Superman III needed to open with a bunch of slapstick gags, so my best guess is that he ripped all the music out of Forum to make room for his big stunt comedy finale, something I can’t see being possible in a staged version.
But I could be wrong.
Anyway, the songs! “Comedy Tonight” is a big, bright, fast-paced introduction that slams you with essentially a trailer of all the best moments to come. The song itself is catchy as fuck and hammers you with the message that this is just a fun ride, so don’t try to pick it apart looking for morals. And it’s super effective, clearly, as I am phoning in this critique because whee, pretty colors and shapes! This song comes back in a reprise at the end, and it honestly feels like I’ve been sedated. “Hello, welcome to the movie, here’s a shot to ‘enhance’ the experience, it’s just a dumb jaunt, enjoy… well, it’s over, did you like it? Shhh, shhh, here’s another injection, you had a great time, now tell all your friends…”
I hope Zero got a set of steak knives for his exemplary salesmanship.
Hero and Philia have a nice duet called “Lovely,” which continues to point out that Hero’s desire for Philia is 100% physical. You might expect the song to contain a ton of jokes about how hot but dumb Philia is, but it’s actually very pretty; the comedy comes more from the gags that are happening throughout. And Hero’s big goofy lovestruck face as the lyrics reiterate how beautiful Philia is.
“Hurrr, nice lady make toga snake stand up.”
Continuing with the “women are nice to bone” theme is “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” in which four of our schlubbiest characters fantasize about chicks that’ll clean house and polish their knobs on the side. It’s a winky anthem to porking the hired help that fulfills the innuendo quota for any musical sex comedy.
You can’t convince me this scene isn’t the aftermath of a circle jerk.
Holy shit, “Bring Me My Bride” is amazing. Macho manslab Captain Miles Gloriosus comes barging into town demanding his fuck slave, all the while singing an ego-stroking ode to his talents in raping, murdering, and being buff and handsome, so he’d like to pound his wife right now so he can go back to virtuously destroying the weak and oppressed. It’s the sort of thing Adam might sing in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but it’s so obviously tongue-in-cheek that you can’t help but laugh robustly.
Or else this guy will fucking murder you.
And there’s a funny reprise of “Lovely” that Pseudolus sings to a guy in drag, a snoozer of a funeral dirge, and the big “Comedy Tonight” capper that I already mentioned. That’s it. See ya!
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
When I’m picking out the worst line of the musical every week, it’s usually a safe bet that if I don’t find a shitty rhyme or baffling word choice, there’s usually something offensive that hasn’t stood the test of time. Well, I sorta can’t rely on that crutch in this instance, because almost every tune in Forum is entirely aware of how sexist and/or lowbrow it’s being and hedges its bets on the “morals tomorrow, comedy tonight” premise. So, since I’m entirely stumped on a bad lyric, lemme just pick some boring verses from that lame funeral song I blooped over, which is seriously called “Funeral Sequence” and somehow made the cut in a wild comedy in which seven other songs got the axe. Laugh raucously at side-splitting words like…
“Strew the soil, strum the lyre, spread the oil, build the pyre…”
This may be the first time in my musical journey that I both really enjoyed the film and also assumed that it was a terrible adaptation from stage to screen. I didn’t need to look up how many numbers were cut to feel like something was inherently missing the whole time. Too few songs, rushed plot points, a crazy over-the-top ending… but again, I had a blast! The movie just made me want to see the Broadway version to discover what I might be missing. When I watched Road to Singapore, I called it the cinematic equivalent of candy. Forum is like exceptionally well-made gourmet candy. It’s hilarious, it’s catchy, the actors are a hoot, the stunts are amazing, and when it’s over, you have a big smile but you don’t particularly feel like you need to watch it again for a while.
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)