7.5/10
2,936
68 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.

Director:

Fred Coe

Writers:

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

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Cast

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
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

...IT'S A LIFT FOR THE SPIRITS See more »

Genres:

Comedy | Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Unrated | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

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

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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 »

Goofs

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

Quotes

[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 »

Connections

Referenced in The Facts of Life: A Thousand Frowns (1988) See more »

Soundtracks

The Stars and Stripes Forever
(1896) (uncredited)
Music by John Philip Sousa
In the score as Murray and Sondra kiss
See more »

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User Reviews

 
My favorite movie, and it gets better with each viewing
21 January 2006 | by lisalappSee 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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