“Poor little moth — she fluttered too near my flame.”
In ancient Rome, a slave (Zero Mostel) desperate to escape from his brutish owners (Patricia Jessel and Michael Hordern) convinces his young master (Michael Crawford) to trade his freedom for a young virgin (Annette Andre) recently purchased by the owner of a courtesan-house — but matters become more complicated when he learns Andre has just been sold to a soldier (Leon Greene), and Hordern mistakenly believes he has been given “access” to Andre himself.
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this screen adaptation of Larry Gelbart, Burt Shevelove, and Stephen Sondheim’s popular Broadway hit as a “spirited, tremendously underrated musical comedy”. He calls out director Richard Lester’s “wild cutting and frantic camera work (handled by Nicolas Roeg)” as setting “the anarchical tone for the slam-bang mix of slapstick, satire, burlesque-vaudeville, farce, and absurd humor”, and he notes that while “not all the gags work and the pacing falters on occasion”, there are “a surprising number of hilarious moments”. He writes that “Lester captures period flavor and finds Wizard of Id-like humor in the brutality the strong and powerful dish out and the weak and powerless endure”.
With all that said, I’ll admit to not being a fan of this beloved cult favorite — primarily due to my distaste over how objectified, sexualized, and/or demonized every single female character is. Could Jessel’s pasty make-up — or that of her mother (Beatrix Lehmann) — be any more garishly witch-like? Could beautiful women’s bodies be any more fondled, used as dining tables, or assumed to be merely objects for male pleasure (or reproduction)? However, things become more enjoyable (for me) once Greene (giving “a funny performance”) arrives on the scene; his narcissistic rhetoric is consistently laugh-out-loud humorous:
Miles Gloriosus: What is she like?
Pseudolus: A face so fair, a heart so pure – Sir, if you had been born a woman, you would have been she!
Miles Gloriosus: As magnificent as that?
Buster Keaton, in his final role before dying of cancer, seems literally lost during most of the film (for good reason), but has a nice moment at the end when his character suddenly becomes a pivotal part of the storyline. All film fanatics should check this film out at least once, and more often if it tickles your particular fancy.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Zero Mostel as Pseudolus
- Leon Greene as Captain Miles Gloriosus
- Nicolas Roeg’s cinematography
- Richard Williams’ closing credits
Yes, as a cult comedy favorite.