“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is akin to the comedic satirical reimaginings of archetypal theatrical and romanticized situations that were commonplace in both Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” and “Monty Python & the Holy Grail”, et al. of the 1970s popular cinema. With a plot based upon Plautus’ Pseudolus of early Roman dramatic theatre, Richard Lester manages to incorporate modern stereotypes into a quite ancient setting. However, as Dr. Kyle Harper has mentioned, comedy is, in essence, sex and poop jokes from its invention in circa fourth century B.C.E. Greece through to modern times. Therefore much of the leg work has already been done by Plautus in the early script with merely a modern spin put on the otherwise wholly complete play. Of the changes which occurred in the modern reimagining of the Pseudolus what stands out are: 1. The conversion of many lines of dialogue into musical format, 2. The creation of many additional speaking roles, most importantly the removal of the leading ladies muteness, 3. The shift in plot emphasis from the three main characters: the boy, the slave, and the pimp, to the group of characters as a whole. In the end the movie manages to garner a few laughs while still getting the original plot across in whole. However, a part of this viewer is left feeling as if the original musical, which the movie’s screenplay was adapted from, would have been much more satisfying and that Pseudolus performed in its original contextual situation holds much more than water.
Originally written February 16, 2010 for OU C LC 2613 - Survey of Roman Civilization