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Wayback Wednesday: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)

Rome wasn’t built in a day probably because these characters were put in charge of construction.

One piece of advice I have for anyone looking to watch more old movies, by which I mean movies from the 1940s, – 1970s, is to think of a topic or two you’re interested in and then thoroughly research which old movie features them. Seriously, some of these old movies mix and mash up the most random grab bag of topics and genres. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966) is one of those such movies. Ancient Rome, musical numbers, physical comedy, drag…on paper, this has pretty much everything I could want in a movie! Which is largely why I chose to give it a watch for this week’s Wayback. While there were certain things I liked about this movie and it definitely got more than a few giggles out of me, I didn’t love this movie as much as I had hoped. Which is nothing short of a Roman tragedy. 

Credit: imdb.com / United Artists

Based on the stage play of the same name, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum follows Pseudolus, a wily slave in ancient Rome who will do anything to earn his freedom. When his master’s son agrees to free him if Pseudolus can set him up with the beautiful girl next door, Pseudolus believes he’ll be free in no time. But things turn out to be more difficult than expected when matters get progressively more complicated and Pseudolus ends up involving the majority of Rome in his scheme.

Going in, I knew absolutely nothing about this movie except that it comes highly recommended from some friends whose opinions I trust when it comes to movies. I was expecting a satirical romp giving off the same tone as the work of Mel Brooks or Monty Python. By the way, check out my reviews for Young Frankenstein (1974) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) here and here. I was more or less right to expect that. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum gives off the same kind of wacky vibes as those zany movies just on a slightly smaller scale. It’s definitely off the wall and ridiculous, but the comedy is much more restrained than the works I’m sure it went on to inspire.

You know what this movie most reminds me of? A special episode of a sitcom where the characters dream or imagine that they’ve travelled back in time to a bizarre version of ancient Rome where they’re all part of the daily life there. Like, if there was an episode of Friends (1994 – 2004) where Phoebe got hit on the head with a frozen lasagna and imagined she was in Rome working in a bathhouse and Joey was a gladiator and Ross was a philosopher…you know what I mean? You’ve seen those kinds of episodes before. Just like the best sitcom episodes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the true definition of a comedy of errors that only gets more convoluted and entertaining the longer it goes on. 

What I enjoyed about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was that it sounds and feels as though it could have been based on a Shakespearean play or an actual old Roman myth. Only it’s been slightly modernized and beefed up with a chariot full of madcap antics. As the opening song “Comedy Tonight” states, this movie really does “have something for everyone.”  Music, dry wit, romance, wit, physical comedy…Oh yes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is absolutely brimming with the type of old-school comedy that you’d expect from the era. It’s snappy and fast-paced, giving off an almost vaudevillian vibe. Which makes perfect sense because this movie stars old comedy legends like Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Phil Silvers and even Buster Keaton. Mostel starred in the stage show as well and clearly it served him well because he is a comedic juggernaut as Pseudolus. With the amount of energy Mostel brings to the role, he is practically like a cartoon character. That’s the kind of performance I like to see from a movie as bonkers as this one. 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is cute and funny but in all honestly, it was a little disappointing to me. Not because it was particularly bad or anything, i was just expecting to like it much more than I did. If you’re a fan of the comically absurd than I’d still recommend taking a chance on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Who knows? You may just end up having one of the best movie-watching experiences in history. 

Have you seen A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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