A Thousand Clowns 1965 DVD - Jason Robards / Barbara Harris
Unemployed television writer Murray Burns (Jason Robards) lives in a cluttered New York City studio apartment with his 12-year-old nephew, Nick (Barry Gordon). Murray has been unemployed for five months after quitting his previous job writing jokes for a children's television show called Chuckles the Chipmunk. Nick, the son of Murray's unwed sister, was left with Murray seven years earlier.
When Nick writes a school essay on the benefits of unemployment insurance, his school requests that New York State send social workers to investigate his living conditions. Investigators for the Child Welfare Board Sandra Markowitz (Barbara Harris) and her superior and boyfriend, Albert Amundson (William Daniels), threaten Murray with removal of the child from his custody unless he can prove he is a capable guardian.
Charmed by Nick and Murray, Sandra rows with Albert, who goes off without her to their next case. Sandra spends the night with Murray. She urges Murray to find a job so that he can keep his nephew, and Murray agrees to look. But he walks out of his job interviews, treating them as a joke, because he feels that work would make him conventional and conformist and make every day the same. He apologizes to Sandra, but she is so disappointed in him that she walks out. Yet he knows that if he wishes to keep his nephew, he must swallow his pride and go back to work.
Murray also feels that he cannot let go of Nick until the boy shows some "backbone". In a confrontation with his brother and agent Arnold (Martin Balsam), Murray expounds his nonconformist worldview: that a person must fight at all costs to retain a sense of identity and aliveness, and avoid being absorbed by the homogeneous masses. Arnold retorts that by conforming to the dictates of society, he has become "the best possible Arnold Burns".
Murray agrees to meet with his former employer, the detested Chuckles host Leo Herman (Gene Saks). When Nick does not laugh at Leo's pathetic display of comedy, Leo insults Nick, who quietly but firmly puts Leo in his place. Nick becomes upset with Murray for tolerating Leo's insults, and Murray sees the boy has finally grown a backbone. Realizing that Nick has come of age, Murray resigns himself to going back to his old job, Sandra returns, and the next morning Murray joins the crowds of people heading off to work.
Jason Robards as Murray Burns
Barbara Harris as Dr. Sandra Markowitz
Martin Balsam as Arnold Burns
Barry Gordon as Nick Burns
William Daniels as Albert Amundson
Gene Saks as Leo "Chuckles the Chipmunk" Herman
Phil Bruns as Sloan
John McMartin (as "John Macmartin") as Man in office
Runtime: 116 Minutes