A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
This movie is fast-paced and frenetic, madcap even. You might say that the characters are all on collision courses with wackiness. You get the idea, it's a farce. It didn't really feel like a musical to me, since the songs were sort of scattered in and seemed out of place. I'd forgotten it was a musical at all until the people started singing again. Considering the plot and dialogue were so quick-draw, the sudden breaks for singing were jarring. I'm no director, so maybe without the songs the film would be so fast-paced as to cause seizures.
You know, one of the things that I've enjoyed most about broadening my musical theater horizons has been the exposure to performers that I was previously not familiar with. This movie featured Zero Mostel, who I've always sorta not liked solely for the fact that he isn't Topol. That's a silly reason. I mean, there are lots of other people who are not Topol that I like a lot. For instance, my own mother is most decidedly not Topol, and I've never held it against her. No, it's just that Zero Mostel originated the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, and I really just can't imagine anyone being Tevye except for Topol. Tevye = Topol. Even when I watch the James Bond movie that has Topol in it, I wait for him to sing or complain about his horse or disown his daughter for marrying a Catholic. Instead, he just eats pistachios.
ANYWAY, ole Zero is growing on me. He has a certain...sweatiness about him, but he plays his part well and he's got a good voice. I've no reason to suspect that he wouldn't make a great Tevye. Also, he apparently gave very entertaining testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in a classic show of sticking it to the man. Phil Silvers also had a large part, the second musical I've reviewed where he has impressed me. And! Buster Keaton, in his final film role, looking old and in color and saying words out loud.
Songs and Dance: When I saw Sondheim's name in the credits, I got really excited, because he wrote one of my favorite musicals, Into the Woods. The film cut several of the songs from the stage play, but the ones that were left in were good, though not of the lyrical quality of the ones from Into the Woods. I found them to be rather mundane, but that was a problem of expectations. They were good, but I was expecting mind-blowingly fantastic. I'm sorry, Mr. Sondheim, I still love you, even though you're not Topol either.
Here's the opening number. It actually sums up the movie pretty well, really. And it will make you like Zero Mostel, too.
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Probably not, although I think he would enjoy it, what with the clever plot and witty word play. He'd really like it if I showed him an edited version that didn't have any songs.
This whole movie is based on the premise that Audrey Hepburn is not beautiful. It's one of those movies where you start out with a dumpy girl who cares about stupid things like books or art, but by the end of the movie, she's beautiful and everyone is happy. Except that they did a really crappy job of making her look bad in the start of the movie. Dude, it's Audrey Hepburn. It's no big deal if she looks fantastic in a red evening gown, because she looked pretty good in the brown wool jumper!
I really wanted to like this movie, but I didn't. Songs by Gershwin, with Audrey and Fred Astaire, this movie was made for me to like it. And parts of it were fine. The musical numbers were a little lackluster, but the costumes were neat, and the sets elaborate. But really, the movie lost me when Fred told Audrey that the professor that she came to Paris to discuss philosophy with "cared no more for her intellect than I do." And this is after he is her love interest. I guess we've come a long way since the 1960s. I was depressed for the rest of the movie. Also, Fred was way 30 years older than Audrey, and I had a hard time getting past that.
I guess, in general, this movie should have been better. It had all the parts, why didn't they add up? In defense of...I'm not sure what, apparently the movie bears little resemblance to the stage play. The plot of the movie was adapted from another Broadway show, Wedding Bells.
Songs and Dance: Like I said, kinda blah. There is a famous scene where Audrey does a ridiculous Bohemian dance in a Paris cafe that was featured in a Gap commercial several years ago. My favorite number was "Clap Yo Hands," with Fred and Kay Thompson, who later went on to write the Eloise children's books. Unfortunately, that clip is not on YouTube, so here's Audrey singing "How Long Has This Been Going On?" which is a lovely song. You can tell that the scene takes place at the beginning of the movie, because she's absolutely hideous.
Will I Make Josh Watch It: No.
A version of Doctor Faustus, but with baseball. It's more like Shoeless Joe Faustus, I guess. The Devil shows up, offers to let a Washington Senators fan become a star player for a season so they can win the pennant in exchange for, well, you know. His soul. I wonder if the Devil ever does favors in exchange for anything else, say, a new addition on his summer home.
The best part of this movie is Ray Walston, who plays Mr. Applegate, a.k.a. Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub. No horns or tail or anything like that, just a little guy in a nice suit. He sings songs about having people murdered and causing the plague and all that. I guess it's funny, but I found it a bit dark, to be honest. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood. Gwen Verdon is very good, too. She is someone who sold her soul to the Devil about 100 years ago in exchange for some beauty (she was previously the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island), and now she does seduction work for him. You know, making men leave their wives, give up their money, commit suicide. Which makes you wonder, if Mr. Applegate owned you, what would he send you to do? I don't think my talents are in line with being a femme fatale.
Songs and Dance: Ah, a musical where the plot is better than the music! I didn't care much for the songs. They were fine, I guess, but none of them really stuck with me. The big famous number is Gwen Verdon singing and gyrating to "What Lola Wants," which is a fun little song, but not the sort of routine I would do if I were looking to seduce someone. The dance is almost ridiculous. Then again, I'm not a man, so maybe this would really drive them wild. I much preferred "Two Lost Souls," which had an amazing extended dance sequence.
YouTube does not have a great selection for this movie, but here are a couple of Gwen Verdon numbers: "A Little Brains, A Little Talent" and "What Lola Wants."
Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nope, even though he's a sucker for a good Faust story.