The words of the opening song pretty much describe the menu in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
--"Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone: a comedy tonight!"--a frantic adaptation of the stage musical by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove. The wild story, based on the Latin comedies of Plautus and set in ancient Rome, follows a slave named Pseudolus (Zero Mostel, snorting and gibbering) as he tries to extricate himself from an increasingly farcical situation; Mostel and a bevy of inspired clowns, including Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford and Buster Keaton, keep the slapstick and the patter perking. The cast also includes the young Michael Crawford as a love-struck innocent.
This project landed in the lap of Richard Lester, then one of the hottest directors in the world after his success with the Beatles' films. Lester telescoped the material through his own joke-a-second sensibility, and also ripped out some of the songs from Stephen Sondheim's Broadway score. The result is very close to the vaudeville spirit suggested by the title--though anyone with a low tolerance for Zero Mostel's overbearing buffoonery may be in trouble. Oddly enough, amid all the frenzy, Lester creates a grungy, earthy Rome that seems closer to the real thing than countless respectable historical films on the subject. Frankie Howerd, who played Pseudolus on the London stage, kept the tradition going with his Up Pompeii TV series. --Robert Horton
Director Richard Lester ('Help', 'A Hard Day's Night') brings his own madcap style to this screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's bawdy Broadway musical. Set in ancient Rome, it tells the story of Pseudolus (Zero Mostel), a slave who has made a deal to win his freedom if he can procure for his master (Michael Crawford) the beautiful virgin slave who lives in the house next door. Pseudolus does his best, but the forces of farce are against him, and his efforts soon come up against a series of bizarre complications involving mistaken identites, sly tricks, comic chases, unexpected arrivals and narrow escapes. Also starring Phil Silvers, Michael Horden and Roy Kinnear.