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  • "A Thousand Clowns" has been my favorite movie for 30 years -- not because it's the world's finest work of cinema (it's not; mainly it's a well-filmed play -- good, but not a masterpiece). What makes it my favorite is that the story is profoundly human, the script is unique and genuinely witty, the performances are delightful, and -- most importantly -- it's a movie that takes on new meaning as you mature.

    When I first saw it I was in college and Murray was my hero; his crisis, to me, was all about selling out. Later, after I had started a family, Murray's story seemed less about selling out than about owning up to his devotion to his nephew. By the time I showed this movie to my teenage children, I had come to see Murray's brother -- the master compromiser -- as the hero. Now my children are grown, and I just watched it again -- and for the first time I saw that the buttoned-up male social worker (Mr. Amundson, played by William Daniels), shows great heart in the second act and is the only character who aims at all times to do what he knows is right. Amundson hasn't become my hero, but I saw him as a good man this time -- and I never as a young viewer imagined that he was anything but laughable. Also on this viewing, I came full circle to see that Murray really IS the hero in this story -- not because he's a charming nonconformist but because he does achieve redemption.

    What keeps this movie so important for me is that, even after raising children, I still respect Murray's conflict and so I think his redemption really is heroic -- though no more heroic than any parent's true devotion. (If you don't respect Murray's conflict -- if conformity has never bothered you, or if you think he's just a bum, period -- then you might not enjoy this movie.)

    This movie grows up with you, but some things remains constant with every viewing: the film's stunning wit, its passion for authenticity (Murray's speech on the fire escape is a deeply moving plea to wake up and live), and its charmed performances. If you like Jason Robards, you will love him in this film. And Gene Saks, as the TV star Chuckles the Chipmunk, does some of the best comedy work I've seen anywhere. (Notice his timing on the line, "She's done a wonderful job," and the ridiculous walk he came up with for the line, "You told me her name was Minnie Mouse!")

    As a bonus, this movie gives you a sidewalk-level, free-wheeling view of Manhattan when it wasn't so overpopulated and Lincoln Center was just being built. It's enough to make you want to quit your job and start collecting eagles.
  • I loved this movie passionately the first time I saw it, which was almost 30 years ago, and I love it every single time I watch it. Certainly aspects of it have gotten more meaningful as I've gotten older. The cast, full of people I had no idea of at the age of 10, turned out to be full of some of my all-time favorite actors (William Daniels, Barbara Harris, Jason Robards...how can you go wrong?)

    I think some of the reviewers here (especially the ones giving it mixed reviews) are under the impression that the viewer is supposed to view Murray as a totally sympathetic character. He's not, and I don't think he's intended to be. Murray is really fun to be around for over half the movie; you're rooting for him all the way. As Sandy says, "No wonder Nick loves it here. I'd love to live here too if I were eleven years old!" When it's really time for Murray to settle down and do something to keep Nick, he can't bring himself to do it, and his free-spirited ways start looking, to the objective viewer, shallow and irresponsible. Murray needs to grow up, and do it fast, and growing up means compromising. That's the lesson; not that Murray was right all along, but that you can't be completely free if you do in fact have something left to lose, and Murray does. But life isn't a black and white choice between happiness and unhappiness, it's a continuum, and sometimes "doing the best you can" is enough.

    I found it truly interesting that, throughout the movie, Nick was what Murray describes as "a middle-aged kid," seeming older than Murray himself. At the end, when Murray grows up, Nick seems to revert. He throws a full-scale tantrum, and that's the first time in the whole movie I remembered he was actually a child. I think that's a testament to Gordon's skill as an actor.

    For anyone who read/saw the play: the director didn't seem to quite "get" the point of the play, and changed the end of the first and second (or is it second/third? I don't have it in front of me) to make the end of the movie more of a downer than the play. I never quite forgave him for that. The end of the play suggested that compromises have to be made, life goes on and it can even be good. The end of the movie seems to suggest that the last scene was unsubtly a "sell-out." I disagree. But I still loved the movie.

    "Getting back to reality..." "I'll only go as a tourist!"
  • This movie, one of the best ever made, has become part of my life!

    The setting is New York City in the 60s and the movie excellently portrays the feeling of the city at that time. It features incredibly witty and clever dialogue that my family and I unceasingly quote from. This movie deals with the topics of conformity vs. individuality. A movie that can be watched over and over and enjoyed all the more with each viewing! It will enrich your life to see it.
  • Fred-369 September 1999
    A choice movie, and an original. The writing is sharp, the characters well played. Highlight is Martin Balsam's defense of "getting along," climaxing in "I am the best possible Arnold Burns." Robards holds it all together, but the supporting cast, especially Daniels and Sax, deserve lots of credit. And of course young Barry Gordon was perfect. Movie makers everywhere take note: It's the script, stupid!
  • Most of us have "favorite" films that we think no one else in the world has seen. You just want to tell everyone to go out and rent it, hoping that they too will say, "Wow, what a movie! I can't believe I've never seen it before!" "A Thousand Clowns" is just such a film. Rarely seen on television, this Oscar nominated (best picture) Oscar winning (best supporting actor/Martin Balsam) film is special in many ways. Superbly cast (child actor Barry Gordon is a must see!) and smartly written. The satire and tragedy blend so well you will be caught laughing and crying at the same time throughout the movie.1000 Thumbs up!
  • Jason Robards, Jr. plays the lead role of the unique, quirky, firmly unemployed Murray Burns and effortlessly masters the clever dialogue the way it was meant to be performed. Writer, Herb Gardner, created a delightful character like those you yourself rarely meet who have an uncommon outlook on life.

    This movie caught my attention and prompted me to check out the screenplay from the library so I could experience the dialogue again and again.

    There are so many one-liners and passages to admire, and you'll enjoy the charming performance on ukuleles of "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby" by Robards and Barry Gordon which is played against the background of Murray and Sandra exploring New York.

    The sad thing about discovering a gem like this play for the first time is knowing that you won't experience that same pique of excitement and discovery again the second time through it again. But you do continue to marvel at the mind that can create such a fresh screenplay.

    Unfortunately, I could not find much more information about the author, Herb Gardner, than what was on the cover jacket of the screenplay: He was born in Brooklyn and worked as a teen-ager selling orange-juice and checking coats at the Cort and National Theatres. "He saw some plays as many as 140 times and reports that that's an excellent way to learn the craft of the dramatist." He was also married to actress Rita Gardner.

    Some favorite quotes:

    "If most things aren't funny, Arn, then they're only exactly what they are; then it's one long dental appointment interrupted occasionally by something exciting, like waiting or falling asleep. What's the point if I leave everything exactly the way I find it? Then I'm just adding to the noise, then I'm just taking up some more room on the subway."

    ". . . it could have been any day, Arnie. . . sitting in the train going through any day. . . in the dark through any year. ... Arnie, it scared the hell out of me. You got to know what day it is. You got to know what's the name of the game and what the rules are with nobody else telling you. You have to own your days and name them, each one of them, every one of them, or else the years go right by and none of them belong to you. . . And that aint' just for weekends, kiddo. . . ."
  • It's truly a shame that this film has escaped the attention of the last few generations of movie watchers -- not only have most people not seen this film, it's likely that only a small percentage of folks have ever even heard of it. I dare say that both the character Jason Robards portrays and this film as a whole are more relevant today than half of the comedies produced 5 or 10 years ago. The bottom line is this, if you're looking for great acting and smart dialogue, and are getting tired of the 'I've-just-wasted-the-last-couple-of-hours-of-my-life' feeling that comes over today's average TV viewer or cineplex visitor, then you simply must do yourself a favor and seek out this hidden gem.
  • You'll laugh and you'll cry and you'll take delight in being human; perhaps as fine a piece of ensemble acting as there is. Can, I believe be compared with Broadway Danny Rose as an bright and beautiful light on the human condition. Enjoy!
  • ctrout23 January 2005
    A Thousand Clowns is about a twelve-year-old Barry Gordon who lives with his Uncle, Jason Robards. A social worker played by Barbara Harris shows up and ends up falling in love with Robards. But the child welfare people try to force Robards to get a good job so that they won't have to take Gordon away from him. Gordon, who also fancies Harris, looks up to his Uncle as his role model and loves his lifestyle. But then Gordon sees that Robards is willing to give up that great lifestyle in order to keep his "family" together.

    The film is an excellent portrayal of the "not a care in the world" way of life and should definitely be seen by anyone who loves comedy. It's one of only a few films that made me laugh out loud and I'm sure if you see it, you'll agree with me. It's only flaw is one scene in which Gordon sees what his uncle's life has been reduced to. But even that was necessary as it shows the way anyone would succumb to social workers.

    The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Picture, Supporting Actor (Martin Balsam as Robards' down to earth brother), Adapted Screenplay, and Score. Sadly, Best Supporting Actor was the only award that it was able to take home that night.
  • 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.
  • I first saw it years ago as an idealistic college student who did not want to become one of the great gray working millions, saddled with a job I didn't like, a huge mortgage, etc.. At that time, I fell in love with the movie and the characters. That's the problem. The movie cast a spell over me and sprinkled some weird kind of fairy dust over me. I wanted to be Murray Burns: a nonconformist, a smart ass, a non-contributor, a guy who ALWAYS did ONLY what HE ALONE wanted to do. And so, for a few years, that's what I did.

    Those years, I must admit, were not very happy ones for me. Self-indulgence is a dead-end. I needed to be working hard, towards a goal, with a family, for me to feel truly fulfilled. And I think that is the case with most of us.

    Murray Burns and his world are totally unrealistic AND unhealthy. Do not try to emulate him. It is a trap and a prison. It's like smoking dope all the time: you lose your drive and you increase your cynicism.

    But perhaps I'm being too serious. Murray does have the kid, and he seems to fall in love at the end, so maybe there is hope for him. The movie has some great lines and funny characters. The black and white scenes of NYNY in the 1960's are wonderful, Martin Balsam as Murray's brother is one of our greatest actors, Barbara Harris is great, William Daniels is great, Barry Gordon as Rafael Sabattini, etc., is great.

    See it and enjoy it but don't take it to heart like I did.

    Alexander Hamilton imitations???
  • What does it say about the public when they will support about 200 TV showings a year of 'Sixteen Candles' but a film as great as this might appear once? This is an excellent, thoughtful, interesting movie. It's well-written and the acting performances are all flawless in my book.

    Jason Robards, one of the all-time great actors, portrays an idealistic sort of guy who has taken in his sister's son whom she more or less abandoned. Such an idealist is he, that Robards can't bring himself to take employment at jobs that would require him to compromise his standards or work for people whom he doesn't respect. Unfortunately this puts him in danger of losing custody of his nephew, played by young Barry Gordon. A young social worker (played by Barbara Harris) unexpectedly finds herself falling in love with Robards and being taken with his nephew.

    There are some really great surprises in this movie. Robards' ukulele performance of 'Yes Sir That's My Baby' is surprisingly pleasant, and much better than just 'on key'; in the part where Barry Gordon joins in, it's obvious he too had some musical talent as he does a fine job as well. In fact it is apparent that Robards was actually playing his uke and if Gordon wasn't also I couldn't tell it. (Used to be a time when performers could play some sort of musical instrument but I have seen more people blatantly fake playing a guitar or piano than I can stomach.) The views of downtown New York in the 60's will certainly be of interest especially to those who lived there then and can look for old (or new) landmarks in the background on the outdoors scenes.

    Barry Gordon has to be one of the best juvenile actors ever. It makes me a little ill to think of the ones in the 80's and 90's who were paid ungodly amounts of money to mug for a camera; I bet Gordon was paid far less for a performance that was as fine as any adult's. There are so many good scenes in which he appears but to me the most powerful one is near the end of the film when he is afraid his uncle will take a lousy job just to appease the child welfare department. You can't miss it if you watch the film. Gordon shines in the whole film, and most brightly in that scene.

    I don't know how else to say it; I "liked" Barbara Harris in her role, very much. Maybe the best way I can explain is that while I never saw the Broadway play version of this story, the same character in the play was portrayed by an actress who for some reason I just never liked. If someone was going to come into the relationship with Murray (Jason Robards) and Nick (Barry Gordon), she was ideal. I don't know why but if I don't like an actor or actress, I resent it a little when their character gets involved with other characters I care about.

    It's amazing how great a movie can be made even if you don't budget latex rubber aliens oozing goo, or space battles, or massive slow-motion explosions or other disasters. This had to be a very low budget film - there are not many actors, the scenes and sets are rather simple one-room locations, the outdoor scenes were shot on location in NY. But when you have a great script with an interesting story and fine performers playing the roles, well it just shows that money alone does not (and can not) make a great film.

    I decided to record 'A Thousand Clowns' and save it based on some of the other comments listed here and I am very glad I did. This movie would make an excellent intelligence / maturity test. "Which do you prefer to watch, 'Sixteen Candles' or 'A Thousand Clowns'?" Seldom anymore do I see a movie for the first time and realize that I had been missing something; this movie gave me that feeling. It has immediately entered my short list of favorite films, it's that good. All I can say is watch it and follow the story and you will see one great movie well worth your time.
  • At some point, everybody has to do a bunch of things they do not want to do, right!! Jason Robards plays a character who is plagued with the tedium of monotony and banal laboriousness!! As a result, he throws caution to the wind about accepting basic responsibilities. He and his ward, Nick, are completely capable of conveying messages to each other which involve an entirely different set of priorities than the mass public is accustomed to dealing with. The film "A Thousand Clowns" evokes a very flippant disposition about many ominous circumstances. Being perennially jobless, and living together in a New York City's makeshift definition of a cramped studio apartment, the New York Child Welfare Department does not feel that this is a suitable environment to raise an adolescent boy. The recurring song "Yes Sir,That's My Baby" throughout the entire movie, signifies an extremely nonchalant attitude that both Jason Robards and his ward (Barry Gordon / Nick) purvey in this film!! It's all about asking different questions, and wanting different answers!! Murray and Nick's ultimate desires are to pinpoint what exactly it is they want to do with their lives, and how they want to do it, without threat of fatal repercussions,, Suffice it to say, they are fighting a dreadfully losing battle while attempting such a dubious endeavor!! The movie "A Thousand Clowns" winds up being one big acrimonious jeremiad which denounces boredom and anonymity!! In addition to Jason Robards and Barry Gordon, there were many other terrific acting performances in this movie. Barbara Harris plays the perpetually misunderstood social worker who has her seriously low salary written all over her face. She develops an ideological crush on Murray (Jason Robards). Martin Balsam plays Murray's brother, he gives his brother a lending ear and is Murray's succor for empathy, yet, he realizes the urgency of the prevailing situation. Gene Saks is the total corporate man lock, stock, and barrel. He is painfully aware of the fact that he is not funny. Such a harsh reality can leave permanent scars on your fragile ego, as a result, this clown (literally) becomes Jason Robards' greatest nightmare!! Director, Herb Gardner, is sensational at instigating a catastrophically horrible occurrence, and making it utterly hilarious!! Such a scenario purports the real definition of comedy, especially a dark comedy!! What the film "A Thousand Clowns" ultimately makes provision for is the concept that a prerequisite to getting by in this world does not mean that you must engage in a total capitulation to the conventional!! More to the point, you have to sort of have a compromising relationship with conventionalism in order to feasibly survive!! Like most relationships, there is always give and take!! The film "A Thousand Clowns" takes on a very unique approach to what specific problems are afflicting Murray (Jason Robards), and how Murray's feelings about these dilemmas, affect everyone around him. Marching to a radically different drummer has created a rather fatal side effect of potentially catastrophic devastation regarding any definition of an harmonious family unit between Murray and Nick, or whatever the kid's name is this week!! The visceral reactions from all of the characters in this movie, give the movie audience a crystal clear indication that this film cannot afford the luxury of being ironic!! What was wonderful about this film is that human responses replaced stilted ones!! It is almost as if the title "A Thousand Clowns" translates to a thousand people with a thousand errors!! This domino effect disaster equals a million discrepancies, and so on, and so forth!! Excellent film!! Some off Broadway critics in New York have rated this play turned movie as perhaps the best movie ever written. I don't really agree with this assessment of the film, however, I do feel that "A Thousand Clowns" was superbly done!! A PERFECT TEN!!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    For my money, it's as fine a film as was ever made.

    And I find the end consistent with the rest of the play, unlike a lot of the reviewers here.

    In an early scene with the girl, Murray's literally up against a brick wall, and he tells her that he can't give in to the welfare people because the boy hasn't yet shown the backbone to stand up to the phonies in the world. He can't let Nick go, because he's not sure Nick's ready to face the world without him.

    The scene toward the end - magnificent scene - in which Nick tells Leo Herman what a dip wad he (Leo) is, and how bad his potato chips are, is the boy coming of age, and standing up to the phoniness. At that point, it's fine for Murray to get a job and prevent the welfare people from taking Nick. Murray has accomplished what he wanted to do. Nick's come of age.
  • It's a shame that being in black & white is now a nearly fatal handicap; this is one of the few movies I consider perfect. From the enthralling, completely believable performances by everyone in the small cast, to creative details in the score, cinematography and editing, to dialogue with as many great lines as The Princess Bride or Monty Python & the Holy Grail, to the reality of its bittersweet message (given especially by Martin Balsam, in the abandoned restaurant), this is a level that film-makers very rarely achieve. If you get a chance to see this, get ready for a real treat. Like all perfect movies, it repays re-viewing with details and depths previously unnoticed.
  • I used to watch this film every time it played on the tube when I was a kid (late 1960's, early 70's!) I was completely affected by the world view conveyed in it even then. Hard to believe that life is even more complicated now than in 1965. People need to slow down and evaluate what is really important in life. I really hope this film is released on DVD soon. I can never forget the lamp "with the boobies!" Man, I really miss Jason Robards. There was a certain quality to his voice that no one has today. They just don't make actors like they used to. Maybe Hollywood should stop casting GAP models and hire some real talent--no matter what they look like.
  • I saw "A Thousand Clowns" for the first time when I was a college student in New York in the early sixties. I remember thinking what a cool guy Murray was.

    Then I graduated and realized that, for a variety of reasons, working was a necessity. I saw the movie again from the perspective of someone facing reality.

    And then I got married and had a child. Then the relationship between Murray and Nick came to the forefront.

    And now I watch it and see how complex life and the people in it are.

    This is one of the most significant movies of my life. After I saw it for the first time I began rating movies in units of clowns - one thousand being the best possible rating.

    I loved how the characters were represented. They weren't all good or bad. I hate movies where the hero is all good and the villains are all bad. The "villains" in this movie were complex. William Daniels' social worker was ostensibly the villain but he understood himself and was empathetic.

    Even though the movie is certainly dated, it's still a great movie well worth watching - over and over again.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I watched this film mainly because "A Thousand Clowns" is one of those classic American plays that I had long heard about but never seen.

    Now, it may well be a great play (though I have my doubts) but it is assuredly a terrible movie. So "stage-y" that I kept looking around for my Playbill. Its message feels dated and obvious (although to be fair, it may have had more emotional heft at the time it was made.) Jason Robards was a very good dramatic actor (and, yes, I know he played this part on Broadway to acclaim) but he's never had an particularly appealing affect and it seems to me here that one of the keys to trying to make this play work is that his character needs to be terribly charming. The best Robards can manage is a sort of grumpy kookiness. The kid, as played by Barry Gordon (and, to be fair, as overwritten by Gardner) comes across like an adolescent Woody Allen -- and I mean that in all the bad ways. Barbara Harris' character is a disgraceful and absurd portrayal of a modern women -- even given that the film is set in the early 1960's. (Apparently we are to assume that a women who recently earned her Ph.D. is ready to drop her nascent career to move into a one room apartment with some grizzled ne'er-do-well and his bastard nephew only 12 hours after meeting them).

    All of the foregoing notwithstanding, what really makes this film painful to watch is the pseudo-"hip" filming and editing style where jump cuts occur without warning or purpose and where we go back and forth between a 1950's urban realism in one scene and a surreal "we're the only two people in Manhattan" empty city pastiche the next. Perhaps it felt interesting and experimental when it was made, but now it just comes across as odd and VERY over-mannered.

    In retrospect, I would have been much better off just buying a copy of the play and reading it, rather than wasting 2 hours watching this. I find it hard to come up with any reason I would suggest someone watch the film.
  • The hero of `A Thousand Clowns' is Murray Burns (Jason Robards), one of the most original, most complex characters in movie history, and also one of the hardest to decipher. That fact alone – that the protagonist is hard to understand – is probably the main reason that this fabulous film is reduced to only a 7.3 rating on the IMDb scale, a scale which often underrates some spectacular movies, but that's a whole nother topic.

    The story follows Murray Burns through about two days of his life, as he goes through a tremendous change. Murray is unemployed and living in a junky apartment with his nephew Nick (Barry Gordon), who urges him again and again to get a job because children's aid workers are on their way. Murray shrugs it off, until two workers – Albert (William Daniels) and Sandra (Barbara Gordon) – show up at his door. Murray spends most of the interview making jokes and bugging Albert, and we sense that it is his defense mechanism. He doesn't want to face his problems, and when he needs to shape up the most he romances Sandra and takes her on a daylong date.

    But Sandra happens to be more than a one-night stand, and the two fall in love, which proves to be another distraction that's averting Murray from working to keep Nick. It's only after Albert shows up once again and warns Murray that he fully realizes his situation, and after a long bout he decides to work for Nick, and he goes to get a job.

    There's a problem, though, it's that Murray doesn't want a job, because he's afraid of becoming a regular, a dead person whose entire life is planned before it happens. Murray sees the rest of the world as a circus, where everyone is a clown with a routine. Murray is a hero to himself, thinking he's brave to avoid this.

    Only its revolutionary script matches the revolutionary plot of `A Thousand Clowns'. It knows exactly the right moment to switch from comedy and drama, to show when Murray is frightened about losing Nick or joking to hide his fear. The scriptwriter knew everything he needed to know about his characters before he wrote the script (and probably the play) and his expertise shows. The movie is very funny, and also very touching, and at all the right moments.

    The film is obviously told in Murray's point of view. Example: when Gene Saks' character first enters Murray's apartment the camera follows him as if it were someone's eyes, watching Saks, and since Robards is off screen for the majority of the shot, we can assume who's eyes the camera represents. And we are horrified by the warped Saks, just as Murray is, but compromise along with him as Murray enters the shot and reluctantly joins Saks. The cinematography is great in capturing all of this, and more.

    Another great aspect about the movie is how barely anyone understands Murray. Saks doesn't, he just sees a good writer for his show and has no idea why Murray is so `odd', inspiring a long, anger-filled speech about the oddness of Murray's household. Nick doesn't even understand him; he likes his uncle because he is fun but doesn't know why he is fun, and why he must cease being fun in order to keep Nick. Sandra doesn't seem to see the cynical parts of Murray and spends the movie trying to touch on his more compassionate, regular side.

    The character that understands Murray the most is his brother Arnold – played by brilliant character actor Martin Balsam. Murray and Arnold, who is also his agent, are locked in an intense verbal combat in an abandoned restaurant. For the first half Arnold is silent as Murray belittles him, as one of the `dead people', upset that Arnold never gets angry anymore, that he no longer is any fun. Murray is about to leave when Arnold screams, and then Arnold opens up, and explains how wrong Murray is, and how wonderful Arnold's life is. `I am the best possible Arnold Burns,' he says, and we see that he is right, and how happy he is.

    You see; the whole point of the movie is that Murray is wrong. Well, not entirely, his description of people who've lost their souls to the system is spot-on for Saks' character, but his mistake is that he thinks everyone but himself and maybe Sandra fits into this category (though he's teaching Nick not to be). But he's wrong, and since the film is in his perspective we are as stubborn as he is in accepting that. But listen to all the other characters, like Daniels' line `A person like me will always look foolish when talking to someone as creative as yourself.' This is all summed up in Arnold's speech, about how you can still live a fulfilling life being a regular working man.

    The acting in this movie is terrific. I'd like to single out Robards and Balsam (who won a very well deserved Oscar for this), who are wonderful, but really all the actors are great here. Harris is delightfully flighty as Sandra, Gordon is charming as Nick and Saks is strange and warped in his part. This is an ensemble piece, really, with every actor playing his or her part enough to leave a lasting impression while avoiding being a ham.

    I love this movie, it's funny, and it's brilliant, 8.5/10.
  • emguy1 April 2001
    This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I recall reading somewhere that Jason Robards considered this one of his favorite roles.

    It has a great script, and great performances all around (Robards, Gordon, Harris, Saks, Daniels, Balsam). While it features a likable eccentric who rebels at conformity, it avoids the trap of letting the other characters become mere cardboard cutouts who must make the non-conformist into a hero. (Well, okay, one of the characters does have a cardboard cutout of himself. ;-)

    Each character has depth, each character has flaws and wants, and each character has a pretty good reason for being the way he or she is. It shows that while the non-conformist might be more fun in a way, there's a price he pays, and the more conforming characters can actually like who they are too. The movie warns us not to judge anyone too quickly.

    When the movie wears its comedic face, it's very funny and offers some great quotable lines.

    I give this an unqualified 10 out of 10.
  • This stagey film, based on a Broadway play, is excruciating to watch. How astounding that it was nominated for Best Picture, and that an adequate Balsam WON for Best Supporting Actor!!

    The scenery-chewing and the obnoxious soundtrack are bad enough. But what is it trying to say? That non-conformists are heroes? What is admirable about not holding a job, and barely supporting yourself, and a dependent child?

    Barry Gordon is 17, playing 12!!! His mannerisms are exaggerated, and annoying. His "wisdom" is cloying.

    Boy, does everyone "act." The grandstanding is overly pretentious. I understand that many of the stars recreated their Broadway roles. Apparently, they forgot that a camera is much more intimate than the stage, and consequently, the performances are often grotesque.

    Frankly, I'm surprised at all of the positive reviews in here. Perhaps subtlety isn't always appreciated.
  • There's a remarkable diversity in the way this film is viewed by commentators at this site. It's obviously many things to many people, and more than one seems to credit it with changing or influencing their outlook on life. I just saw it for the very first time, and… well, maybe I'm just not quite young enough for that anymore.

    This film certainly shows its theatrical origin in long scenes played out on a single set, i.e. the protagonist Murray's apartment. It's been pointed out that the screenplay tries to give the viewpoints of all characters their due, and it certainly tries to humanize even the most unsympathetic characters. The stiff, humorless social worker is shown to be a person who does care about the people he serves. He personally resents Murray for having so much more wit, charm, and imagination than he does. Yet he practically pleads with him to take some responsible action so that he doesn't have to break up their household, a plea to which Murray can't seem to respond. Even Leo `Chuckles the Chipmunk' Herman's intensely obnoxious character is shown to be someone trapped in a position for which he has insufficient talent, and whose desperation and insecurity has crippled his personality and warped his character.

    There's some good lines that many have found memorable. The dialog is witty, but to my taste in a contrived, theatrical way. The point of one commentator that it's all so `teeth-gnashingly kooky' is well taken. As we watch a film like this, we like to think that we'd appreciate Murray for the bright, free spirit that he is, but I suspect in real life many of us would exclaim to ourselves `yeah, the world owes you a living, you arrogant ass.' I did find it a bit challenging to suspend disbelief enough to get in the spirit of the piece. Murray and Nick live in a low-class apartment building in New York that's really just a theatre set. That being the case, we don't see the thousands or roaches and rats that would be marching over everything in sight after dark (alternate title: A Thousand Roaches!). We don't hear the drunken hollering echoing through the neighborhood all night. We don't see the junkies trying to break in through their windows and steal what little they have. Living with no means of support extracts a severe price in quality of life, and it seems to me idiotic to ignore this fact of life, even in a quirky satirical play about a lovable cockeyed optimist. Someone like young Nick would be beaten bloody by the local street gangs on a daily basis. And yet, this bizarre inner city neighborhood seems to be populated by only two people, Murray and Nick.

    I guess that as hard as they tried to make Murray a sympathetic character, I simply wasn't buying it. When he finally does seek employment, he turns away all offers in disgust. What was the very first offer? He is to be the star of his very own TV talk show, showcasing his views on life and culture. Yeah, right. Haven't we all been there? I felt the same way when they wanted me to train for a manager position at Wimpy's Hamburgers. I guess the fact that I turned that down makes me a quirky nonconformist also. Ain't life grand?
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I love this film. I love the play which I have never seen but can imagine. I love the scenes of NYC in the wonderful 60's, and I love remembering the CBS Saturday Night Movie announcer "Don Rickles" (?, not the comedian, tho) who I remember assuring me "will be back in a moment" altho I was far too young to care and was not even watching the film. Why I so clearly remember him announcing that is up for grabs. I think that was 1969 or so. I didn't even know who the "Fabulous, Furry Freak Brothers" were. I didn't know anything.

    Now, I KNOW I don't know much. Then, I thot I knew.

    Oh, the movie;

    There are many ways to look at the movie, and I have enjoyed reading the other comments on it here.

    A young, impressionable, trying-to-fit-in Sandra Markowitz has earned her PhD and landed a job. Did she meet Albert there at work or knew him in college? Herb Garder took the answer to his grave. Anyway, she falls "instantly" in love with Murry and stands up to Albert. Seems pretty unstable to me, but she's cute.

    I never thot Murry was a "slacker" OR a hero. He's (to me) as his brother paints him; someone to feel sorry for because he can see how stupid and pointless the human race is (as it is) and all the potential it is missing and how misguided it is. And yet, for many lowbrows, that's all they really can be. So Murry is smart, but intolerant. He needs a good dose of being around nice, but stupid people. Yet there he is with a "genius" nephew and a sharp brother. Maybe if he hung around "Perrucio" and his junk a while...

    Murry should watch "Barney" or "Boohbah" on PBS if he thinks Chuckles the Chipmunk is stupid (and is). Then he'd be proud to write for Leo.

    "You don't WANT a job is the whole thing!"

    "Maybe if you say 'be happy Chuckles' it'll get un-stuck!"

    "This robe fits fine.."

    "Hey, Mur, I'll be up in a sec! Don't JUMP!"

    Yeah, Gene Saks deserved the Best Supporting Actor award; I can think of three times more quotes his character said than those of Arnold Burns. Was it just the character being more interesting? But Balsam was a bigger star so, you know, like the most popular kid automatically becomes Quarterback no matter how good he is at it, he gets it.

    "Hey, Murry. This paper is three days old." "So what? Is it starting to rot or something? Just read me from the paper." "Most of these jobs have probably been filled. I'll just go get another paper" "We don't need another paper! Besides, all the really good jobs stay around."

    Murry's nephew unintentionally starts the investigation by writing an essay entitled "The Benefits of Unemployment Insurance". Nick probably wrote that his uncle and he were having a good ol' time seeing sites in NYC and he was getting paid to do NOTHING! I hope he did not also mention the times he has to stay at the ol' lady's apt. when Murry has his "late work" to do.

    "Your work left her gloves."

    Yes, as another commentator mentions; Albert Amundson was NOT a villain. The way Murry was going, he might have been a hero.

    SPOILER comments; I enjoy one other commenter's point that the movie indicates a bittersweet ending; Murry DOES get a job and save the lad, BUT he looses his creativity.

    "Neighbors? I really feel I should... Now I really want to tell you that... I'm sorry. I can't think - of anything to say."

    This means that Chuckles the Clown is doomed. Murry will write the same schlocky stuff Chuckles already has going. Yet perhaps it was Murry that got him the fame he reached. Then Murry went to that bar and said "Gosh and Golly, yes!" to an olive in his martini, and left the show's staff. And yet, to Leo Herman, Murry will seem to be writing Great Stuff.

    "Minnie Mouse! You called her Minnie Mouse! I swear; my life's work must be feeding you straight lines.!" Leo thinks that is so creative and funny and glib.

    What the hell kind of furnishings was that?! "I've been attacked by the Ladies Home Journal." I don't know about Murry, but I would NOT like that apartment after Sandra got thru with it. "So it doesn't really fit with the overall design."

    "We all got a little carried away, there. Just tussle around with the kid and he'll be fine."

    Leo knows kids as good as humor; "a cloudy wonderland, as clear as the blue, blue sky."

    "Goodbye, Charlie! Have a wonderful trip!"

    "Hey, stick around, Dr. Markowitz! You know; anything can happen above an 'abandoned Chinese restaurant'!"

    And so it did.
  • The best part about this screenplay is that everyone has their say. It's not about making a hero at the expense of everyone else and their opinions. Even the humor-impaired social worker (William Daniels) gets his say in this thoughtful treatment of coming to terms with compromise and self-identity in modern life. I love this film. It was one of the first in my collection.
  • Screen-adaptation of the Broadway hit grinds itself into the ground with a firm belief that kooky equals lovable, and vice-versa. It's tough to love anything here, particularly Jason Robards' performance as a life-loving eccentric (here we go) who is investigated by authorities to see if he's a proper guardian for his live-in nephew (played by Barry Gordon as a wizened little wiseass). A grueling piece of work. Martin Balsam won a Supporting Oscar playing Robards' brother; perhaps the Academy was just giving a fine actor his due. Had to be, because this brand of arms-flailing theatrics and sub-Neil Simon/jokey dialogue shows off no one to their best advantage. Helped a bit by the decent black-and-white cinematography, and by Barbara Harris' innate grace. *1/2 from ****
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