A Thousand Clowns
A 1965 Movie based on the play
which ran on Broadway
by Herb Gardner
Fred Coe (II)
- Jason Robards........Murray Burns (uncle)
- Barbara Harris.........Sandra Markowitz (social worker)
- Martin Balsam.........Arnold Burns (Murray's brother)
- Gene Saks................Leo "Chuckles the Chipmunk" Herman
- William Daniels.......Albert Almundson (social worker)
- Philip Bruns.............Man in the Restaurant
- John McMartin.........Man in the Office
- Barry Gordon...........Nick (nephew)
........Dr. Morris Fishbein,
........Big Sam Burns
There is no other way to say this, this cinema production, a little less than two hours' worth, has to go on any film-lover's, or playgoer's, must see list, which would, of course included Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and various better reincarnations of Hamlet. However, though this movie, like those two mentioned, is fraught with some minor tension, its endearing humor with romance interspersed, makes this work more enjoyable, and just as universal, but contemporaneously relevant.
Like so many plays transformed to the silver screen, it is presented in Black and White, hardly ever leaves one location; however, this adept adaptation won it the Academy Award in 1966 for Best Writing. That same ceremony gave it Best Picture, and Marty Balsam best Supporting Actor. Its editing won it the American Cinema Editors top accolades for feature films, and the Golden Globes awarded it Best Picture, while Jason Robards and Barbara Harris got the top acting trophy. The Laurel Awards repeated Balsam's honors, as did the Writer's Guild of America concerning the screenplay as the Best Written American Comedy. It is further enhanced from the fact that Jason Robards had mastered this role on stage prior to this oeuvre. This film was one of the first of that rebellious questioning mentality that flirted with existentialism in an era of space-age angst, but this also is the one never duplicated because of its classic humanity issues. Only the clothes give away the age of this film. It is unlike the line Robards spouts, "Dead.... dead, doorknob dead."
The very thing which twelve year old Nick loves about his Uncle Murray is the stuff in him that made his Kiddies Show, Chuckles the Chipmunk come to life, and this wonderful man whose charisma extended itself to the whole neighborhood spent more time with him than he should. There are many more important things to do than nine-to-fiveing, someone has to say Bon Voyage down at the docks, and what better thing to than fly Kites on that most important constantly reoccurring holiday, Irving R. Feldman's Birthday. The natural ensuing problems of having too much fun become evident as the super straight brother, Arnold, pushes for conformity. Even more threatening is the entrance of social workers warning Murray to stabilize or lose custody. Nick, the preadolescence, had been playing the mature counselor, but, his uncle's falling in love with one of 'the enemy' proves to be the catalyst to Murray's 'copping out'. Even though he knew something had to be done to stay with this beloved man, a reformation becomes a salvation to Nick where a personality's not coming back from the dead. This same social worker woman has actually become infatuated in a motherly way with the boy and everyone learns that life has questions and answers that are not always easily digested. The interactions of the characters is some of the best in the business, and one will not be disappointed at getting involved in this domestic dispute.
A most wonderful scene is where Jason Robards plays on the ukelele, and sings, "Yessir, that's my baby, no sir, don't mean maybe, yessir, that's my baby, now. Oh by the way, Oh by the way, you can see her everyday...."
On a poignant note, this story had been running again as a play on Broadway through October in 2001, but the show was closed down on September twenty-third due to the tragedy downtown from the theater on September eleventh.