A Thousand Clowns (1965) – reviewed by George

This is a comedy about an irresponsible man who doesn’t want to work. His name is Murray Burns (Jason Robards) and he’s beyond bright – he’s intelligent. And also personable, funny, and reasonably good-looking. But his brother Arnie (Martin Balsam, Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) comes over every morning with a box of fruit, and apparently pays for all the rest of the food and for the rent. He does this because of a couple things: Number one, He can afford it. And Number two, Murray is raising their sister’s kid, 12-year-old Nick (Barry Gordon).
Now, however, Child Services has had comments from the “genius school” Nick attends, and two social workers have arrived for an interview. They are Albert (William Daniels) and Sandra (Barbara Harris), who have an understanding regarding the fact that they are kind of engaged.
Murray is not Auntie Mame, but his situation is pretty much the same; other people will now decide whether or not Nick can continue to live with him, unless he can clean up his act and get a job. This doesn’t sound funny at all, but trust me that it is, mainly because of Murray’s attitude and observations. But also because of some wonderful acting from the ensemble. For instance, John MacMartin has a super bit as a network executive looking for a writer. He tells Murray, “I told Arnie I wanted to see you because there’s this new series that’s going to need a GUTS attitude. Courage kind of thing. I ought to run from a writer with a your rep, but, uh, I’m a gambler, Burns. Insecurity excited me. Going for a big one this fall. Series will be really human, you know, kind of thing? Sort of, uh, well, of our time. Quality concepts, area of Kafka, symbolism, literate, Chekhovian sort of thing. We’re calling it “Homicide Squad”.
Also, Gene Saks is beyond perfect as Leo Herman, who stars in a network children’s show as Chippy the Chipmonk. At one point, without lines, he cracked me up just by the way he looked around at Murray’s apartment after being told it was newly decorated.
And Murray tries to explain himself to his brother: “If most things aren’t funny, Arn, then they’re only exactly what they are. Then it’s just one long dentist’s appointment.”
Will Murray grow up before he loses Nick? Well, this is a comedy, and a very good one. The screenplay is by Herb Gardner, based on his play, and it was directed by Fred Coe.

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