70 user 26 critic

A Thousand Clowns (1965)

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


Fred Coe


Herb Gardner (screenplay), Herb Gardner (based on his original play)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 3 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »


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Complete credited cast:
Jason Robards ... Murray
Barbara Harris ... Sandra
Martin Balsam ... Arnold
Gene Saks ... Leo
William Daniels ... Albert
Philip Bruns ... The Man in the Restaurant (as Phil Bruns)
John McMartin ... The Man in the Office (as John MacMartin)
Barry Gordon ... Nick Burns / Wilbur Malcome Burns / Theodore Burns / Raphael Sabatini / Dr. Morris Fishbein / Woodrow Burns / Chevrolet Burns / Big Sam Burns / Lefty Burns


12-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 (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) See more »

Also Known As:

Mil payasos See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Harrell See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

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 »


As Murray puts on a shirt, his toothbrush appears and disappears in his mouth between shots. See more »


[first lines]
Murray: [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!
See more »

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 called Nick, Nicky, and Nicholas. See more »


References The Wizard of Oz (1939) See more »


A Thousand Clowns
Written by Judy Holliday and Gerry Mulligan
Sung by Rita Gardner
[Played before the opening titles]
See more »

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User Reviews

Ought to be seen much, much more often
3 August 2008 | by rooster_davisSee all my reviews

What does it say about the public when they will support about 200 TV showings a year of 'Sixteen Candles' but a film as great as this might appear once? This is an excellent, thoughtful, interesting movie. It's well-written and the acting performances are all flawless in my book.

Jason Robards, one of the all-time great actors, portrays an idealistic sort of guy who has taken in his sister's son whom she more or less abandoned. Such an idealist is he, that Robards can't bring himself to take employment at jobs that would require him to compromise his standards or work for people whom he doesn't respect. Unfortunately this puts him in danger of losing custody of his nephew, played by young Barry Gordon. A young social worker (played by Barbara Harris) unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with Robards and being taken with his nephew.

There are some really great surprises in this movie. Robards' ukulele performance of 'Yes Sir That's My Baby' is surprisingly pleasant, and much better than just 'on key'; in the part where Barry Gordon joins in, it's obvious he too had some musical talent as he does a fine job as well. In fact it is apparent that Robards was actually playing his uke and if Gordon wasn't also I couldn't tell it. (Used to be a time when performers could play some sort of musical instrument but I have seen more people blatantly fake playing a guitar or piano than I can stomach.) The views of downtown New York in the 60's will certainly be of interest especially to those who lived there then and can look for old (or new) landmarks in the background on the outdoors scenes.

Barry Gordon has to be one of the best juvenile actors ever. It makes me a little ill to think of the ones in the 80's and 90's who were paid ungodly amounts of money to mug for a camera; I bet Gordon was paid far less for a performance that was as fine as any adult's. There are so many good scenes in which he appears but to me the most powerful one is near the end of the film when he is afraid his uncle will take a lousy job just to appease the child welfare department. You can't miss it if you watch the film. Gordon shines in the whole film, and most brightly in that scene.

I don't know how else to say it; I "liked" Barbara Harris in her role, very much. Maybe the best way I can explain is that while I never saw the Broadway play version of this story, the same character in the play was portrayed by an actress who for some reason I just never liked. If someone was going to come into the relationship with Murray (Jason Robards) and Nick (Barry Gordon), she was ideal. I don't know why but if I don't like an actor or actress, I resent it a little when their character gets involved with other characters I care about.

It's amazing how great a movie can be made even if you don't budget latex rubber aliens oozing goo, or space battles, or massive slow-motion explosions or other disasters. This had to be a very low budget film - there are not many actors, the scenes and sets are rather simple one-room locations, the outdoor scenes were shot on location in NY. But when you have a great script with an interesting story and fine performers playing the roles, well it just shows that money alone does not (and can not) make a great film.

I decided to record 'A Thousand Clowns' and save it based on some of the other comments listed here and I am very glad I did. This movie would make an excellent intelligence / maturity test. "Which do you prefer to watch, 'Sixteen Candles' or 'A Thousand Clowns'?" Seldom anymore do I see a movie for the first time and realize that I had been missing something; this movie gave me that feeling. It has immediately entered my short list of favorite films, it's that good. All I can say is watch it and follow the story and you will see one great movie well worth your time.

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