Lesson 5 Research Activity
Sound and Music

At the Movies: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Of course we had to choose a musical as the film for this lesson. It could have been Singin’ in the Rain or The Wizard of Oz or West Side Story or A Hard Day’s Night. But it’s not.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is the quintessential desert-island movie—if you had to take one film with you, this would be it. Why? Well…for many reasons.

Composer Stephen Sondheim is the single greatest composer of musicals during the last 50 years. The story is based on Plautus, which connects us to the earliest Roman farce. The presence of Buster Keaton, Phil Silvers, and Zero Mostel links us to the earliest movies and the vaudeville tradition. Director Richard Lester is one of the most influential stylists of the last 40 years.

"Tragedy tomorrow; comedy tonight!" Enjoy!

Student Materials

Time Estimate

1 1/2 hours


Watch A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (and jot down notes on the film) while thinking about the following questions.


Please post your responses to the following questions on the class message board.

  1. Discuss the use of sound, music, and song in this film. Can you envision this film as anything but a musical?
  2. Classic Latin farce is all about opening and closing doors—usually the wrong people come through those doors, causing all kinds of commotion. When you know this rule, the structure of A Funny Thing is logical. Can you think of how the farce door rule works in more recent comedies?
  3. The rapid cutting of the film is now part of the general film vocabulary. Indeed, it is often overdone in music videos and TV ads. Richard Lester invented it (not in A Funny Thing but a few years earlier in A Hard Day’s Night). What makes it funny? And why and how is the technique so often misused today?
  4. Do you agree that "everybody ought to have a maid"?