1965 / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #237: A Thousand Clowns (1965)

Since writing this blog, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the way that cinematic adaptations of plays have been produced. Usually they have plenty of scenes set in one location and feature one character who dominates the lion’s share of the dialogue. Those two attributes can certainly be given to Best Picture nominee A Thousand Clowns which was adapted for the screen from a play by Herb Gardner.

The story sees eccentric unemployed TV writer Murray Burns try to care for his nephew Nick while at the same time trying to dodge doing any work. Murray’s situation changes when the child welfare board come to meet Nick and inspect Murray’s apartment to see if it is suitable for a twelve year old to live in. During their visit, Murray is able to charm child psychologist Sandra and the two strike up a relationship based on her love of Murray’s infectious personality. Despite him charming Sandra, the child welfare board deem that Nick must move out of Murray’s apartment though he does have the chance to appeal. Sandra tells Murray that he must get a job in order to show that he is attempting to change his ways however Murray really despises being a worker. Murray eventually asks his agent brother Arnold for help getting work but Murray quickly tires of the TV executives that Arnold gets him to meet. At the same time Murray’s relationship with Sandra sours when she realises he doesn’t live in the same world as everybody else. In the end Murray realises that he must reunite with his old boss Leo, who plays the role of kids’ favourite Chuckles the Chipmunk, in order to keep Nick living with him.

Despite A Thousand Clowns being mainly based in Murray’s apartment I still really enjoyed this film mainly due to the script and the performances. I found all of the characters incredibly likeable and by the end of the film I was willing there to be some sort of fulfilling conclusion. Writer/director Fred Coe makes sure that A Thousand Clowns is well-paced and in most scenes all of the supporting players get to showcase their abilities. But this was mainly Jason Robards show and he gave a tour de force performance as the conflicted Marty who loved his nephew but at the same time really didn’t want to work. I was surprised then that Robards didn’t even receive a nomination for his performance. Instead the acting recognition went to Martin Balsam who didn’t really make much of an impact on me as Arnold. Of the supporting cast I thought Barbara Harris was a joy as the scatty, unsure Sandra and William Daniels also gave a good accounting of himself as child welfare officer Albert. Overall I found A Thousand Clowns to be a delightful little comedy with plenty of great performances along the way. If you don’t find yourself humming ‘Yes Sir That’s My Baby’ after watching this film then you haven’t enjoyed it nearly as much as I did.


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