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Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, A

Of a slightly different bent but still a genuinely massive picture, this adaptation of the smash hit musical farce is a truly epic endeavour. Under the art direction of Syd Cain and the photography of laughing Nicolas Roeg it looks far more like the old town probably did than in any other Romanesque romp. That is, it’s manky. The cast list is no less impressive, including the immortal talents of Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Phil Silvers in his best ever big screen role, Peter Butterworth, Jack May, Michael Crawford in full on Frank Spencer mode alas, Roy Kinnear, John Bluthal, Alfie Bass, John Pertwee, Ingrid Pitt and Henry Hall on the piano. Best in show is Michael Hordern as the incredibly tatty Senex, master to slave Zero and neighbour of procurer Silvers. Indeed, the whole magnificent if slight canon of Michael Hordern In A Toga ought to be a genre of its own. Henpecked, run down and as exhausted looking as the eternal city itself, Hordern is a joy to watch. His song and dance number with Zero and Silvers, ‘Everybody Ought To Have a Maid’, is the high point of the film. Whoever decided the English theatrical knight would work well with two American Jewish clowns deserves some sort of special recognition. That would be director Richard Lester, already notable for his nack for top flight incongruous casting having previously employed Wilfred Bramble of Steptoe and Son television fame to be John Lennon’s Grandad in A Hard Day’s Night. He even has the audacity to feature a chariot race at the end one much more fun than that other one in the less interesting Ben-Hur (1959).

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