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What promise this film had as it captured New York City in all it's vibrancy and beauty and appeared to have a smart, funny screenplay that could delve into serious issues without becoming bogged down. Unfortunately while the film still boasts ample charms it doesn't achieve the greatness I initially expected it to be capable of reaching and I couldn't help feeling slightly let down when the film ended. The film's biggest issue was it's screenplay as it was based upon a play and all of the long pontificating monologues that would have worked so well on stage have not been adapted to suit the screen. For lovers of theatre this film will probably be to their taste but I wanted to feel more invested in the lives of these people and when they seemed so unnatural it was hard to care about their problems.
Willfully unemployed former television writer Murray Burns, Jason Robards, lives with his precocious nephew Nick Burns, Barry Gordon, in New York City where he spends his days telling jokes and romancing women. Their quite lifestyle is interrupted when two social workers arrive at Burns' house to investigate whether the environment is safe for Nick to be living in. Burns takes a liking to one of the social workers, Dr. Sandra Markowitz, Barbara Harris, and they start a relationship despite him not getting a job as she would like him to. He decides to try and get and job when he realizes that he could lose Nick if he does not obtain one but his reservations about selling out prevent him from taking on any job. His frustrated manager and brother Arnold, Martin Balsam, lectures him about his irresponsible nature which pushes Burns to attempt to return to his former employers whom he detested. When he notices that Nick is worldly enough to live without his tutelage and returns to his old job.
Possibly the most remarkable part of the film was the cinematography as it was the sort of rich black and white that you associate with Woody Allen movies, cliché I know, which complemented it's New York City setting. I was impressed by the Midnight Cowboy (1969) style shots of New Yorkers wandering the streets which we witness while Robards talks to Nick or goes off on a long monologue. We really feel the joy and excitement of being in a city so large and full of fascinating, lively people who have comical exchanges worthy of being documented. Surprisingly cinematographer Arthur Ornitz did not receive much recognition for his work as the Academy preferred to recognize the work of Burnett Guffey on King Rat (1965) who produced a markedly inferior product.
Also delightful was the spirited performance of Harris who manages to be sweet, neurotic and concerned without slipping into late career Diane Keaton territory. She is so lovely and sympathetic that you wonder how a creature of such strength could settle for such a self righteous bum which is one of the biggest points that the film makes. Gordon also plays the precocious child trope well as his joke delivery and gentleness in dealing with his uncle differentiate him from your average Haley Joel Osment kid. Balsam, who won an Academy Award for his performance, really excels in one scene where he smacks some sense into his wayward brother and conveys all of the wistful sadness of Melvyn Douglas in Hud (1963). Sadly, the lead actor in the film gives a performance that really hurts the film as while he delivers almost all of the dialogue that sounds like it was copied and pasted from the play his delivery doesn't help it to sound natural. I felt myself tuning out as he plays to the back row with his loud voice and intensely ponderous dialogue. Robards has been very good in other films, notably Parenthood (1989), but he's just too much here and when Harris' characterization appears so lived in and precious it is hard to feel anything for our main character.
This is still a film that I would recommend as it has it's fair share of bright spots but I couldn't help feeling as though it would have been a much better film had the screenplay been just slightly better.
The best comedy movie ever made!
Funny script, though patchy story.
A Thousand Clowns is an okay. It is about a middle-aged iconoclast who faces the prospect of losing custody of his young nephew. Jason Robards and Barbara Harris give decent performances. The screenplay is a little slow in places. Fred Coe did an alright job directing this movie. I liked this motion picture because of the humor and romance.
What crap! Completely non-entertaining! Must have been a really bad year for actors if Martin Balsam won an Oscar for such an uninteresting role.Boring! Who would be interested in this?
Murray is an oddball, a nonconformist type. He doesn't have a job. He doesn't want one. He also has a boy kid aged 12, his sister's son, who was left in his care years ago.The boy goes to school and the psychological people affiliated with the school come by for a home visit since Murray has been ignoring the mail sent asking about the boy's home life to assure it is wholesome enough for a child. Nick, the name the boy calls himself, is smart and precocious. Actually, we know he is fine with Murray who is not much worse than a lovable eccentric.
This is a comedy and a rather funny one. A particularly good scene is the home visit scene with the straight playing William Daniels and Barbara Harris getting more than they had bargained for and then some.
While rewatching the movie last night, temporarily a YouTube bootleg of a TCM showing, I found myself thinking about the stakes involved that drive the comedy/dramatic conflict. In a way it is a conflict from a bygone time. Yes Murray doesn't have a job, but he can get one right away if he wants it. And a good high-paying job too, actually a number of them. The job he left was writing for a kid's TV show and he can go back to that anytime he wants to. He just doesn't want to.
In this, the movie reminds me of Keep the Aspidistra Flying a novel from the mid-1930s by George Orwell. It is the story of another refusenik. In that the main guy is a poet constantly obsessed with money after leaving his job writing advertising copy so he could concentrate on being a poet. He can't write poetry because he is constantly worried about money. But like A Thousand Clowns the stakes seem low because he can always go back to the ad job that is sitting there waiting for him.
I wonder what an updated A Thousand Clowns would look like. I mean, what if he was the same old Murray, with his rather familiar anti-work attitudes, got in a huff, had enough, and dashed out of his job, but was unable to land another or had to go into fast food labor or something?
A Thousand Clowns is a very good movie that is just about 10 minutes too long.
A Thousand Clowns is the story of a care-free man who is raising his nephew, but faces the risk of the child being taken away. It's a lighthearted film that shows a sweet relationship between the uncle and his nephew. I love their interactions, and therefore it was easy to root for them to stay together. The movie takes a hard left turn after the first act, though. There's this romantic relationship that crops up out of nowhere, and the kid literally disappears until the final act of the movie. When we return to the status quo, and we are once again focused in on their loving bond, I was back on board. Jason Robards is great in the lead role. Somehow I understood why he was so reluctant to get a job, when ordinarily I would have a hard time connecting with a character who was that frustratingly stubborn. The final scene is a tour de force from Robards as you can feel the internal struggle of his nature and his desire to hold onto his nephew. I really enjoyed Barry Gordon as the kid, too. He was fun-loving and yet wise beyond his years, and Gordon made this combination feel authentic. I struggled a little with Barbara Harris as the "psychologist." She was written weakly, her behavior was illogical, and frankly her performance was a bit grating instead of endearing. A Thousand Clowns is a film that was adapted from a Broadway play, and it feels like it. There are a few scenes around the city, but most of the film is very contained. Honestly, I wonder if I would enjoy it more on stage. As a film I found it decent, but because the focus seemed to shift away from the Uncle-Nephew relationship for a long time I didn't love it.
The very beginning of A Thousand Clowns (1965) offers a brilliant encapsulation of the tonal complexity of the film, a box kite hangs hopefully in the air accompanied only by the haunting, melancholic voice of Rita Gardner, a sombreness soon shattered by a military like, march inspiring outburst of percussion and horns echoing Stars and Stripes Forever as our protagonist Murray watches a parade of indiscernible, pitiful working stiffs pile in the streets, in his eyes no closer to humans in their conformity than they are chairs.
Herb Gardner adapts his own stage play from three years prior and Fred Coe directs this story of a quirky, sharp tongued, ex T.V writer Murray (only a tourist in reality) who in his recent unemployment has Child Welfare threaten to remove his nephew Nick from his custody, whom he's been caring for. Faced with this, becoming a drop in the murky puddle of working stiff America looks like an unpleasant reality for Murray if he's to keep Nick, and so begins his wrestle between spiritual freedom and the compromise demanded by the working world.
Jason Robards as Murray and Barry Gordon as Nick both reprise their roles from the play and both are awesome as they brim with affection for one another but remain brutally honest, uniquely quirky and laugh out loud funny throughout the film. But the great character work doesn't stop there. Gardner has crafted a menagerie of fascinating characters for the cast to sink their teeth into and everyone is up for the challenge. Barbara Harris as the oxymoronic psychologist, vulnerable and seemingly weak minded, Martin Balsam as Murray's brother, also affectionate but a brutal realist, and Gene Saks as the desperate, insecure former employer of our hero.
The writing in this film might be the MVP if you had to pick one. The dialogue is hilarious, eminently quotable and resounding. Gardner has brought together a plethora of fascinating characters and infused them with thought provoking discussions of conformity, what it means to be alive and the conflict of being free spirited and having obligations. And admittedly whilst all these ideas sound like a disposition to pretentiousness, the film resists temptation thanks to the affectionate and humane central performances and the witty direction. Coe is sure to never have a heavy hand in presenting all these ideas, which he does with such a unique humour, originality and deftness that they are never jammed down your throat but you can feel their heft. Coe uses an intelligent marriage of editing and music to create witty juxtaposition and to also create a map to the personality of Murray. We get shots of Murray bustling through the streets with hopefulness and hot jazz blaring, spliced with hushed scenes of only the diegetic dialogue, as though Murray's happy-go-lucky free spirit is quashed by the suddenness of reality. We get snappy cuts of indulgence on the part of the conformists that Murray pity's so vehemently as they go about their day to day lives with the Hallelujah Chorus sardonically blasting, and we get longer takes with gentle ukulele as Murray indulges his free spirit. We are taken beautifully into Murray's head and his wrestling with reality and the effects of those around him are quirkily yet poignantly noted. We can see the ideas that forge the film take shape within our hero. We can see what needs to be done, rather than just be told, and when this is coupled with some captivating Paddy Chayefysky-like monologues the film is sure to resist that dreaded heavy handed pretentiousness, its dramatic reach never exceeding its grasp.
A Thousand Clowns has such character and life. Clever in every way, packed with intricate personas and witty dialogue, each character is given appropriate life by the performers and the moments are given great depth by the director. It's loaded with intriguing and worthwhile ideology and all these ideas are presented in a way which deftly blends humour and drama in a way so original you'll happily stand to attention. Just like Murray himself, it is impossible not to be enamoured with the personality of this film, even if it is straddling the tight rope of pretentiousness and lunacy.
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Saw it 25 times. Great Movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A critique on being human and the compromises involved that can make us dishonest and untrue to our own selves in order to get stability and provide. It is well made, written and acted.