A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Stephen Sondheim's first solo Broadway musical was turned into a lively cinematic romp by director Richard Lester, which suffers from perhaps an occasional overabundance of Lester-isms. The quick cuts and sight gags that worked so well on It's Trad, Dad, A Hard Day's Night, and Help! are a little distracting at times from the jokey script, which has fun with all manner of conceits about the ancient world and the timeless nature of human foibles. On the other hand, Lester himself has always maintained that he didn't have a free hand with this movie, having run into interference from producer Melvin Frank. The DVD offered a chance to go into the back-story of the movie, but the producers have, alas, failed to take advantage of the opportunity. A commentary track by Sondheim or Lester, or any of the other surviving participants would have been a stroke of genius, as well as an invaluable service, and would have resulted in a DVD that would still be a bargain at double the price. As it is, the DVD is simply a less expensive improvement on the laserdisc edition without any extras, which is still worth owning. The film looks very good, and occasionally radiant (in comparison to television presentations from the 1970s). The shots alternate between the beautiful and the above average -- for example, the gorgeous scenes between Michael Crawford and Annette Andre at 24 minutes in, during "I'm Lovely," are surrounded by sequences that look simply sharp and clean; the close-up of Zero Mostel when he is hit on the head with a flower pot is beautiful, but the wide shots in the same scene are just so-so visually; and the shots inside the house of Lycus are stunning. The 98-minute movie is broken into 28 chapters that delineate the key scenes and the musical numbers, and a trailer has been included as well. It's as much fun as the movie can be, which is considerable, but it could have (and ought to have been) a lot more.