In most ways that matters, this is the perfect film. Yes, as an adapted stage-play it sometimes gets a little claustrophobic by modern standards that say movies are a collection of chase-scenes, fight-scenes, love-scenes and with the odd bit of dialog tossed in to grease the wheels. But in this age of special effects this film offers us two of the most spectacular effects there are - great writing and great performances.
I first saw this movie when I was 13 years old, in the spring of 1966, at the Paramount theater in Baltimore. When I walked into the theater, in my private universe, everyone had this thing in life that they were supposed to do, be it sinner or saint, business or baking. When I walked out that universe was closed forever. What if, I wondered, there is no fit? What if, like Murray Burns, life was made up of a series of trade-offs and compromises. As I write these words the Paramount has been dark for decades. Most of the movies that I saw have been digested and placed in their apportioned slots in my life. But not this one.
A THOUSAND CLOWNS is like a pig in a python for me. Its imprint is still fresh 41 years later.
Friends know that I'm "into" movies. I watch them. I sometimes write and lecture about them. Silent or sound, domestic or foreign, classics, b's, newly released - it doesn't matter. I'm fairly omnivorous. I'm often asked for my favorite movie. I never struggle for an answer or give out my top five. I simply smile and reply, "A THOUSAND CLOWNS." Some are puzzled by it. Most have never heard of it. None of them really seem to understand it.
My world changed in 1966 in ways that, even now, I'm still discovering. This is the movie that as present at the creation.
One last thing - if you want to put together an interesting double feature, watch this in tandem with King Vidor's 1928 masterwork, THE CROWD. The two films share some fascinating common themes.
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