Hey Tacoma Film Club—we are showing A Thousand Clowns!

When:  Tuesday October 9, 2007      @7:00 PM

Where:  Center for Spiritual Living  206 North    Street 

If you want “goodies” please bring what you want to eat or drink.


A Thousand Clowns



Unemployed television writer, Murray Burns, lives in a cluttered New York City one-bedroom apartment with his twelve-year old nephew, Nick. Murray has been unemployed for five months after walking out on his previous job, writing jokes for a pathetic comedian who hosts a children’s television show. Nick was abandoned by Murray’s sister seven years earlier, and now attends a school for gifted children.

When Nick writes a school assignment on the benefits of the unemployment system, some of what he writes about his home surroundings causes his school to send social workers to investigate his home environment. Confronted by investigators for the Child Welfare Bureau, Murray is given the option of finding a job or losing custody of his nephew. Along the way, Murray charms and seduces Sandra (played by Barbara Harris), the young psychologist assigned to Nick’s case.

Although Murray tries to avoid returning to work, he finds himself in a dilemma: if he wishes to keep his nephew, he must swallow his dignity and acknowledge his greater responsibilities. When he chooses to go back to work for a man he detests, he ultimately loses the respect of the nephew he so highly prizes. However Nick also stands up for himself, telling the comedian how terrible he is. At the end Sandra and Nick begin to clean the apartment, and a more normal home life, with a stronger child, may be developing.

December 14, 1965

Screen: ‘A Thousand Clowns’ Opens:Jason Robards Repeats His Success of Stage


Published: December 14, 1965

THE cheeriest and most approving comment that can be made about the film, “A Thousand Clowns,” is that it maintains the spirit and the humor of the Herb Gardner play on which it is based.

It starts right off as an erratic and wildly comic conversation piece in which a firmly dedicated nonconformist explains his casual attitude toward the world—and especially toward gainful employment—to anyone who will listen.

“I see a horrible sight,” he gasps to the beaming lad who is galloping along with him on an early morning jaunt around Manhattan at the very beginning of the film. “I see a lot of people going to work!”

And it rolls on in that disdainful fashion — when the two return to their digs, which is a vast, cluttered one-room apartment, with accessories, in an old apartment barn; when they take on a pair of earnest workers from the Child Welfare Bureau who call to determine why the lad should not be taken away from his irresponsible uncle and put in a foster home; when the cute lady welfare worker gets taken with a wild bohemian urge, moves in and tries without too much enthusiasm to get the rebel to find himself a job.

And it concludes, after some little shuffling with a few other characters and a great deal more wild and comic talk, with the three characters who most matter wrapping themselves up in a nice, cozy ball.

What’s more, it has Jason Robards, who did a lot to make the play the lark it was, still doing most of the talking and skylarking in the uncle’s role, and Barry Gordon, who was his Broadway sidekick, still acting the quick, responsive boy.

It has the new and sensational Barbara Harris playing the appropriately lightheaded girl almost as wryly and irrationally as she was played by Sandy Dennis on the stage. And it still has Gene Saks contributing that hilariously freakish bit as television’s Chuckles the Chipmunk, which turned the play into a blistering burlesque.

It has all of these in rich abundance. And since Mr. Gardner also wrote the script, which Fred Coe (who staged the play) directed, the comic essence of the play is in the film.

What is missing — or is strangely dissipated — in the almost two-hour long work, which, opened yesterday at the Trans-Lux East, is the play’s spontaneity and pace. Mr. Coe has attempted to inject them with several interlude sequences that bounce his characters all around Manhattan—to the Statue of Liberty, the docks, Central Park, Wall Street. Greenwich Village—and he has tacked on a musical score that crashes with bursts of Sousa marches when a triumph of nonconformism is won.

But somehow these cinematic splashes of action and atmosphere, which are bright in themselves, seem extraneous and inharmonious with the long and stagy scenes of kooky but constricted conversation that take place mainly in one room. It is as though the interludes are but filling, to suggest the look and the frenzy of New York that are already well enough suggested in the deliciously erratic dialogue.

Also, there’s just too much of it. The point is clear after an hour that the uncle, an ex-TV writer, persists in his off-beat slant on life because he wants to raise his nephew to be a human being, a person who enjoys himself—not, as the uncle puts it, a chair. That is fine, a reasonable thesis for light, harmless comedy. But it palls a bit after too much talk. And the long scene with Chuckles toward the end, which simply establishes the cheap absurdity of TV comics, is a little too much too late.

Even so, the humor is still surprising, and Mr. Robards is still full of spice with his clownish wise-cracks and the map of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey stamped all over his face. If you didn’t see “A Thousand Clowns” on Broadway, you should certainly see it on the screen.
The Cast
A THOUSAND CLOWNS, screenplay by Herb Gardner, based on his original plays; directed and produced by Fred Coe. A Harrell, Inc. presentation released through United Artists. At the Tras-Lux East Theater, Third Avenue at 58th Street. Running time: 118 minutes.
Murray . . . . . Jason Robards
Sandra . . . . . Barbara Harris
Arnold . . . . . Martin Balsam
Nick . . . . . Barry Gordon
Leo . . . . . Gene Saks
Altert . . . . . William Daniels

Cheerfully:  Roger


One thought on “A THOUSAND CLOWNS @ CSL

  1. Hey Members All –This will be our inaugral screening at the Center for Spiritual Living. Let’s try and get a good turn out. Roger says that there is great seating, and wonderful new equipment for projection and sound. Perhaps TFC will have found a wonderful place for our screenings. Show up and find out. Roger has set it up so that he can screen VHS or DVD copies there. There is a kitchen in the basement of CSL, and plenty of tables and chairs for socializing and scarfing of goodies.


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