Richard Lester Jules Feiffer - Essay

Jules Feiffer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum] Richard Lester has painted on film a manic montage of vaudeville turns, girlie-book jokes, movie bits and gag cartoons that congeal, magically, into art…. With Designer Tony Walton he has built an ancient Rome noble only in its houses of debauchery and steeped everywhere else in a middle-class decay that could easily make it a First Century Watts. Within this he manages, quite improbably, to expand space to the point of infinity and suffuse it with the light of a Steinberg cartoon.

Forum on stage was a raucous, rakish, baggy-toga burlesque, set slightly off-balance by its star, Zero Mostel, whose talent gave it an unneeded class, and, again off-balance, by a score with more wit and urbanity than audiences, under the circumstances, were prepared to listen to. Delightful though it was, the show was not of one piece and never really up to the not terribly well-matched styles of Mostel and Composer-Lyricist Sondheim. What was needed to meld all elements together was the sharp identity Lester brings to all his work, so that on film the show becomes not the mixed bag it was on stage, but a further sighting into the prankish environs of Richard Lester, as fixed an orbit, in its way, as the worlds of Welles and Fellini. (p. 10)

Jules Feiffer, "A Manic Montage of Raucous Rome," in Life (courtesy of Life Magazine; © 1966 Time Inc.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 61, No. 20, November 11, 1966, pp. 10, 16.