Comedy #20: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966)
On the day after our biggest New Year’s Eve party ever, my wife and I awoke to a thoroughly trashed apartment, several unconscious friends, and a well-earned hangover. Not wanting to move further than the remote, I turned on the TV to discover that “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” had just begun. It was the perfect movie to watch as we lay about in the ruins of the night before.
Seriously, how can anyone hate a movie that rhymes “pantaloons & tunics” with “courtesans & eunuchs,” and has one character order a “sit-down orgy for 12”? For the next several years, we started every New Year’s Day with this film.
Stephen Sondeheim’s very first musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester (who will appear on this list more than once) coming off of back-to-back Beatles movies — so you know there will be lots of chase scenes, cross-dressing and broad jokes. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a parody of the sex farce, as much anti-musical as it is true to the form. Songs are poorly sung — deliberately — dances are awkward, and whole thing is incredibly silly. (Ironically enough, until HBO’s Rome came along, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” also happened to be one of the most accurate visual depictions of what life looked like in a Roman city in a Hollywood production. Well, except for the mare sweat.)