Haines Logo Text
Column Archive
June 9, 2020:

A THOUSAND CLOWNS

Bruce Kimmel Photograph bk's notes

Well, dear readers, I am sitting here like so much fish, fighting allergies and phlegm whilst listening some Alex North soundtracks.  This may seem an unlikely congruence of things, but I assure you they all work well together, since the Alex North music I’m listening to is The Bad Seed and, as we all know, bad seeds can cause allergies and phlegm.  I think most of the books have arrived at their destinations, and one nice fellow posted an actual photograph on Facebook of him holding it.  Meanwhile, I’ve been receiving lovely compliments about the Kritzerland show, and I do hope that those who haven’t watched it yet will do so soon.  And we are almost fully cast for the July Kritzerland save for one more New York guest star – the one I confirmed today is spectacular and we’re thrilled he can do it.  Now playing from The Bad Seed is the track “I’ll Give You a Basket of Roses” – I hope that doesn’t exacerbate the allergies and phlegm.

Yesterday was a day I barely remember.  I woke up about five times due to an upset tummy, but thankfully I’d gone to bed at two, so I was still able to get a little over seven hours of sleep.  Once up, I had several telephonic conversations of various lengths and various subjects.  Then I went to the mail place, where I picked up neither mail nor packages.  After that, I moseyed on over to Taco Bell, got my stuff, came home, and ate it all up.  I hadn’t had Taco Bell in a few weeks, and it was actually pretty good.

Then I chose some songs and began gathering music.  This show has a sort of theme and I’m letting the performers all choose one song that illustrates the theme.  Also, I was so happy with our group number from the last show, that we’ll open this one with another group number.  It should be a fun and extremely eclectic show.  I had more telephonic conversations, had a nice chat outside with Grant, and then finally sat on my couch like so much fish.

Last night, I watched a motion picture on Blu and Ray called A Thousand Clowns, starring Jason Robards, Jr., Barry Gordon, Barbara Harris, William Daniels, Martin Balsam, and Gene Saks.  Long before I saw the film, I was in love with the play, which I’d only read and done a monologue from in my high school drama class.  I loved the iconoclastic, non-conformist character of Murray Burns and the dialogue between the young boy and him was brilliant.  Now, part of the reasons I loved it was because I loved Jason Robards, Jr. from Long Day’s Journey into Night.  I never saw the play of A Thousand Clowns, although I’m not sure why, since it played the Huntington Hartford Theater in 1963, just before Beyond the Fringe, I think, so I was a regular there by then.  The national tour featured Dane Clark and Margaret O’Brien (not great casting for either role, frankly), and Barry Gordon played the role he created on Broadway.  He only agreed to do the tour if the producers pre-cast him in the film version, if it got made.  Good agent Barry had.  Barry was the only member of the original cast in the tour.  There were two interesting stand-by actors covering roles in the show – one was Bill Macy, who would go on to star in the TV series Maude – one of the roles he covered was Leo, originally played by Gene Saks, so a lot of six degrees of something or other, since Mr. Saks was married to Bea Arthur who played Maude.  The other stand-by was a kid actor who covered Barry Gordon – also named Barry – Barry Pearl.

So, when the film came out in 1965, my final year of high school, I was primed to love it.  I’d already met Jason Robards, Jr. at the Huntington Hartford when he was doing Hughie there.  And most of the original cast were recreating their roles, save for Martin Balsam and Barbara Harris – those two roles were originally played by A. Larry Haines and Sandy Dennis.  Back were Robards, Gordon, William Daniels, and Gene Saks.  I was at the Village Theater in Westwood opening day.  The play was a one-set affair but as soon as the film began, I could see the way it was going to go – with lots of opening up.  There were lots of scenes played outdoors, lots of montages, and some weird elliptical editing out of sequence, playing rather like some French New Wave film.  I wanted to love it, but I found myself resisting it at almost every turn.  The actors were all terrific, but the direction just made no sense to me – very clunky and all those montage bits drove me to distraction.  Only later would I learn that a lot of that stuff I didn’t like was all due to the editor, Ralph Rosenblum “saving” the film, which had been a good deal longer in its original cut.  Rosenblum became known for “saving” films – The Night They Raided Minsky’s, Woody Allen’s early films.  I also hated the music – which was mostly marches and stuff by orchestrator Don Walker – a composer he wasn’t.  There was also a snippet of a title song by Gerry Mulligan and lyrics by Judy Holliday. The performances saved it for me and the scenes with Gene Saks were the high point of the film.

I hadn’t seen the film since that time.  I felt exactly the same way after all those years.  Great performances, lousy direction, annoying, fragmented editing style.  Martin Balsam, who’s quite good in the film, won an Oscar for his performance (I would have given it to Gene Saks, frankly), and the film was even up for Best Picture even though I don’t think it was a hit.  Barbara Harris is quirky in her own Barbara Harris way, but one can only imagine the quirkiness of Sandy Dennis in the play.  It was fun to see it again, and I was laughing out loud at Gene Saks, who is simply brilliant.  The transfer was very nice, albeit in 1.66 like most MGM/UA transfers.  Dear MGM/UA – this film was never exhibited in 1.66 in the United States nor were any of your other flat films of that era – it was 1.85 all the way.  Oh, and in a brief scene invented for the film, a new actor in what I believe was his first screen role – John McMartin (misspelled in the end credits as MacMartin).

After that, I made some eggs and a tortilla for my evening snack, the began listening to The Bad Seed, as well as fighting my allergies and phlegm.  The winner of that fight is unknown at this time.

Today, I think I’ll get up when I get up, I’ll do whatever needs doing, I’ll try to get our final cast member, I’ll hopefully pick up some packages, I’ll eat, I’ll choose songs, and then watch, listen, and relax.

The rest of the week is more of the same and lots of other stuff.

Well, dear readers, I must take the day, I must do the things I do, I must, for example, get up when I get up, do whatever needs doing, hopefully cast our final cast member, eat, hopefully pick up packages, choose songs, and then watch, listen, and relax.  Today’s topic of discussion: What are your favorite films of Jason Robards, Jr., Martin Balsam, and William Daniels?  Let’s have loads of lovely postings, shall we, whilst I hit the road to dreamland, happy to have little memory of yesterday and happy to have seen A Thousand Clowns again – maybe that’s a play I’ll think about directing if I can convince anyone to do it.

Search BK's Notes Archive:
 
© 2001 - 2020 by Bruce Kimmel. All Rights Reserved