by: Jay Carlson – Editor-in-chief
The Day the Clown Cried is something of a lost Hollywood legend. Jerry Lewis directed and starred as a washed up German clown named Helmut Doork (seriously)who finds himself imprisoned for mocking Germany and Adolph Hitler. While imprisoned at an internment camp he begins entertaining the Jewsish children being held there prior to their transport to Auschwitz. Through a twist of fate Doork accidently ends up on the train making its way to Auschwitz himself. While there he is used to lead the children to the gas showers like a pied piper. In the end he succumbs to his remorse and chooses to remain with them in the showers, making them laugh as the film ends.
Upon its completion, the film was shelved due to legal issues involving payment to the script’s original writer (who also referred to the rough cut she saw as a “disaster”) and the fact that Lewis himself knew the film was a misfire, telling Entertainment Weekly, “You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
Lewis’ friend Harry Shearer, one of the few people to ever see the complete film offered his thoughts on The Day the Clown Cried to Spy magazine:
“With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. “Oh My God!”—that’s all you can say..” “
In 2014, Lewis’ entire catalog of films, including The Day the Clown Cried, were received by the Library of Congress. Lewis’ only request was that his most embarrassing film not be shown for at least ten years. The request is understandable considering that, should Lewis still be around, he would be close to 100 years old.
If 2024 seems like too long to wait for a peek at this cinematic train wreck, fear not! Thirty minutes of footage of the film has made its way online. The footage comes courtesy of a cut cobbled together from multiple sources (a sizable portion is dubbed in German with English Subtitles), so the quality is far from high definition. Take a look at the footage below and let us know what you think.