Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Thousand Clowns


I think this one has been around long enough now to qualify as a classic. I loved it when it was new, and I love it now. Murray (Jason Robards) is a pain in the ass, but I like him. In fact, pretty much everybody likes him, because he is amiable, he’s funny, he enjoys life, and he does exactly what he wants to do, when he wants to do it. They like him in spite of his being a pain in the ass. The only person who hates him is a social worker played by William Daniels (who is perfect for this sort of stuffed shirt), who has no sense of humor about anything, and naturally resents anyone who is enjoying life. He and his companion, Barbara Harris, are there to take Murray’s nephew away from him, mostly because of his unconventional lifestyle. Nick (a very good performance by child actor Barry Gordon) was dropped off by Murray’s sister at age six. She went out to get something, and returned six years later, but could only stay a minute. That was a year ago, and “she communicates with us mostly by rumor,” as Murray says. Harris decides she likes him and moves in, but tells him he has to get a job or child welfare will put Nick in a foster home. Three years ago Murray worked as a writer on the “Chuckles the Chipmunk” show, until he couldn’t take it anymore. His long-suffering brother (Martin Balsam, in an Oscar-winning performance) sets Murray up with job opportunities, including an excruciating visit from Chuckles himself (Gene Saks, brilliant, as is the entire cast, actually). In the end, Murray has no choice but to rejoin the rat race. It’s very sad.

It’s hard for me to imagine that such a thing could happen today. Social workers are so overburdened that, as long as Daddy doesn’t beat the crap out of junior more than once a month, they leave well enough alone. Oddball lifestyle? Hell, these days we let gay and lesbian couples care for kids, and nobody cares except Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter. In other words, fuckheads and assholes.