A Thousand Clowns (1965)

Jason Robard’s brilliant performance elevates this otherwise pedestrian film into compelling viewing. His characterization of Murray Burns is one which brings the more troubling consequences of living as a free spirit to the fore while still remaining charismatic-we see him masked and unmasked, acting childish and eccentric and later brushing up uncomfortably with the reality of his situation. There is a considerable amount of selfishness in his desire to live life as an unkempt bachelor performing illogical if amusing ceremonies such as wishing off boats that he knows no one riding on. That Robards brings this to the forefront is admirable. He doesn’t make Burns unsympathetic, only realistic (even if every other character and director Fred Coe seem to be working at counter-purpose to him.) There is a bit of that rebellion against responsibility and commitment in everyone, and the fact Robards portray this in a manner that doesn’t reduce it to a struggle of freedom vs. enslavement makes it all the more touching yet ambiguous when he does eventually give in. He is a man so smart he can guard himself against good advice and he does for a long time.

The rest of the film, except for the charming street views of 1960s New York City, is middling. The performers do their best with counter intuitive parts and the director makes strained attempts to free the film from its stage origins. Even so, most of it takes place in small enclosed spaces.


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