Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Silly Meme / Day 7: A Comedy Tonight!

Several commentators will tell you this movie isn't what it might be. I'm here to posit that what it is makes me laugh. Maybe this film version of the musical set in ancient Rome, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966-Richard Lester), disappointed some who were looking for a reproduction of the noted Broadway show it sprang from back in the frantic sixties, but there is too much that is raucously funny here to dismiss it as a whole. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, (by way of Juvenal, Petronius, and Suetonius), it brought together their glib and insightful gifts with those of a coliseum-full of comic performing talent at the end of an era.

Being a flexible little peasant, I am more than happy to celebrate a movie that cast Zero Mostel as the crafty, randy, liberty-loving Pseudolus, Phil Silvers as Bilko-in-a-toga, Lycus, (Phil would star as Pseudolus in the 1972 Broadway revival), Jack Gilford as Hysterium, Buster Keaton as a near blind Erronius (sadly, in his last role). There is great droll support from Michael Hordern as a hen-pecked hubby, ancient Rome-style, and Patricia Jessel as his harridan wife from Hades, the appropriately named Domina. A very young Michael Crawford may have had a much greater future as the phantom of the opera, but here he had a Stan Laurelesque quality as the wimpy son of a patrician Roman household. Classic British funny men such as Alfie Bass and the glorious Roy Kinnear (who was one of director Richard Lester's favorites, appearing in 8 of his movies) keep the ball going in this movie, as do many amazonian girls displaying their considerable, *ahem* gifts. Chief among them as a virgin courtesan who is extremely attractive if deeply dumb, is Annette Andre as Philia.

In the clip below of the opening rendition of the robust "Comedy Tonight" song, we see what awaits a viewer: a compendium of visual and verbal gags, with Lester's characteristically lightning speed editing. The language is fine, but the comics' burlesque-honed expressions and delivery, some of the coarser (but very funny) sight gags, and the situations may not be appropriate for all audiences. A DVD is available at a decent price, and, once in a blue moon, this little ancient artifact from the time when real humor roamed the earth in the form of baggy pants comedians does get broadcast on cable. If this taste of the film whets your appetite for more, you can see the entire movie here on Hulu.


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