review for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on AllMovie

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
by Lucia Bozzola review

Merging director Richard Lester's 1960s verve with old-fashioned Broadway and vaudeville entertainment, the movie version of the stage hit A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is an engagingly frenetic slapstick musical. Though the number of winning Stephen Sondheim songs is scaled back, stars Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford, and Buster Keaton pile on the schtick as Mostel's labyrinthine scams lead to nonstop mugging (except from Keaton), sexual shenanigans, hilarious one-liners, an elaborate chariot chase, and (naturally) hairy men in drag. Lester packs the screen with visual jokes and historically accurate Roman trappings; any residual staginess is mitigated by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's and editor John Victor-Smith's New Wave flair for jump cuts and variable camera speeds. Broadway veteran Mostel is in peak form, especially when he goes toe to conniving toe with courtesan merchant Silvers and gauzily woos Gilford with a rendition of "Lovely," while Keaton remains a scene-stealer in one of his last films. A crowd-pleaser if not a Sondheim purist-pleaser, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum maintained the age-old attraction of "Comedy Tonight."