A Thousand Clowns (1965)

Unrated  |   |  Comedy, Drama, Romance  |  9 September 1966 (Finland)
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Ratings: 7.6/10 from 2,347 users  
Reviews: 60 user | 24 critic

A middle-aged iconoclast, doggedly avoiding the tedium of employment and conventional life, faces the prospect of losing custody of his young ward.



(screenplay), (based on his original play)
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Won 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »
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Complete credited cast:
Gene Saks ...
Philip Bruns ...
The Man in The Restaurant (as Phil Bruns)
The Man in the Office (as John Macmartin)
Nick Burns / Wilbur Malcome Burns / Theodore Burns / Raphael Sabatini / Dr. Morris Fishbein / Woodrow Burns / Chevrolet Burns / Big Sam Burns / Lefty Burns


Twelve-year-old Nick lives with his Uncle Murray, a Mr.Micawber-like Dickensian character who keeps hoping something won't turn up. What turns up is a social worker, who falls in love with Murray and a bit in love with Nick. As the child welfare people try to force Murray to become a conventional man (as the price they demand for allowing him to keep Nick), the nephew, who until now has gloried in his Uncle's iconoclastic approach to life, tries to play mediator. But when he succeeds, he is alarmed by the uncle's willingness to cave in to society in order to save the relationship. Written by Warlen Bassham <wcb@zso.dec.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Sooner or later, you'll fall in love with 'A Thousand Clowns'! See more »


Comedy | Drama | Romance


Unrated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

9 September 1966 (Finland)  »

Also Known As:

Des clowns par milliers  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


Two of the names Nick adopted temporarily are those of specific real people. Dr. Morris Fishbein was the very controversial editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) from 1924 to 1950. In 1947 Time Magazine described him as "the nation's most ubiquitous, the most widely maligned, and perhaps most influential medico." Rafael Sabatini was an author, and a few of his most popular novels were adapted for film. These films include Captain Blood (1935) and Scaramouche (1952). See more »


After Leo leaves the apartment, two different cardboard cutouts of him are used, with different facial appearances. See more »


[first lines]
Murray Burns: [shouts at rows of houses] Neighbors, I have an announcement for you. I have never seen such a collection of dirty windows. Now I want to see all of you out there on the fire escape with your Mr. Clean bottles, and let's snap it up!
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Crazy Credits

In opening credits: and introducing Barry Gordon as Nick. In the end credits, Gordon is credited to all the different names his character has tried: Nick Burns, Wilbur Malcome Burns, Theodore Burns, Raphael Sabatini, Dr. Morris Fishbein, Woodrow Burns, Chevrolet Burns, Big Sam Burns and Lefty Burns. In the film, however, he is just called Nick. See more »


References The Wizard of Oz (1939) See more »


"Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (The Boys Are Marching): (1864) (uncredited)
Music and Lyrics by George Frederick Root
In the score during the opening credits
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User Reviews

My favorite movie, and it gets better with each viewing
21 January 2006 | by (Pennsylvania, U.S.) – See all my reviews

"A Thousand Clowns" has been my favorite movie for 30 years -- not because it's the world's finest work of cinema (it's not; mainly it's a well-filmed play -- good, but not a masterpiece). What makes it my favorite is that the story is profoundly human, the script is unique and genuinely witty, the performances are delightful, and -- most importantly -- it's a movie that takes on new meaning as you mature.

When I first saw it I was in college and Murray was my hero; his crisis, to me, was all about selling out. Later, after I had started a family, Murray's story seemed less about selling out than about owning up to his devotion to his nephew. By the time I showed this movie to my teenage children, I had come to see Murray's brother -- the master compromiser -- as the hero. Now my children are grown, and I just watched it again -- and for the first time I saw that the buttoned-up male social worker (Mr. Amundson, played by William Daniels), shows great heart in the second act and is the only character who aims at all times to do what he knows is right. Amundson hasn't become my hero, but I saw him as a good man this time -- and I never as a young viewer imagined that he was anything but laughable. Also on this viewing, I came full circle to see that Murray really IS the hero in this story -- not because he's a charming nonconformist but because he does achieve redemption.

What keeps this movie so important for me is that, even after raising children, I still respect Murray's conflict and so I think his redemption really is heroic -- though no more heroic than any parent's true devotion. (If you don't respect Murray's conflict -- if conformity has never bothered you, or if you think he's just a bum, period -- then you might not enjoy this movie.)

This movie grows up with you, but some things remains constant with every viewing: the film's stunning wit, its passion for authenticity (Murray's speech on the fire escape is a deeply moving plea to wake up and live), and its charmed performances. If you like Jason Robards, you will love him in this film. And Gene Saks, as the TV star Chuckles the Chipmunk, does some of the best comedy work I've seen anywhere. (Notice his timing on the line, "She's done a wonderful job," and the ridiculous walk he came up with for the line, "You told me her name was Minnie Mouse!")

As a bonus, this movie gives you a sidewalk-level, free-wheeling view of Manhattan when it wasn't so overpopulated and Lincoln Center was just being built. It's enough to make you want to quit your job and start collecting eagles.

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