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Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle
Posted January 21, 2011 to photo album "Rome, the Eternal Story: From Ben Hur to The Eagle"
The Eagle explores a part of ancient Roman history rarely seen on stage. But the history of Rome changes throughout history as well.
Slide 13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Rome turned Jewish
Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton (in his last film role) and Zero Mostel
While the failure of Cleopatra kept Hollywood away from making huge Roman epics, the 1966 smaller-budgeted A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum found comedy in Ancient Rome. Adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s 1962 musical of the same name, Richard Lester’s zany musical comedy infused the story with sexual innuendo, rapid fire répartie and the humor of Catskills comedians. Writing for Turner Classic Movies, Jessica Handler observes that A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is “set in ‘a less fashionable suburb of Rome’ and swirling with swinging-’60s treatments of soothsayers, public baths, and ancient Roman go-go girls.” While earlier Roman films featured Jewish slaves and characters, few picked up on the Jewish-American experience. In the essay collection, Imperial Projections: Ancient Rome in Modern Popular Culture, Margaret Malamud’s essay “Brooklyn on the Tiber: Roman Comedy on Broadway and in Film” explores this point. In his review of the book, Kirk Ormand writes about how the works of the Roman playwright Plautus (254-184 BC) “were appropriated and recast for the Broadway stage production by Jewish comics who had cut their teeth in the ‘Borscht Belt.’ This Rome is a place where the comic tradition of the clever slave becomes a venue for exploring Jewish-American identification and assimilation.”