Watch The Day The Clown Cried: Jerry Lewis’s Holocaust Horror Show
THE Day The Clown Cried is an unreleased 1972 Jerry Lewis film. It’s the story of a clown who finds himself in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Like the Aryan Papers, Stanley Kubrick’s Holocaust drama, Francis Ford Coppola’s Megalopolis and David O Russell’s Nailed (a small town waitress gets a nail accidentally lodged in her head causing unpredictable behavior that leads her to Washington, DC) you won’t have seen it.
The film ends in a gas chamber, with the clown going in to face his death with a group of terrified children, trying to make them laugh in order take away their fear. It ends with them all locked in, the kids laughing as the clown juggles stale bread.
Why did he make it?
JerryLewis.com has more:
In 1971, producer Nate Waschberger asked Jerry to direct and star in “The Day the Clown Cried”, based on Joan O’Brien’s book by the same name, about a German clown who was arrested by the Gestapo, interred in a concentration camp, and used to march Jewish children into the ovens. Jerry lost close to 40 pounds to play the role. The shooting began in Stockholm, but Waschberger not only ran out of money to complete the film, but he failed to pay Joan O’Brien the money she was owed for the rights to the story. Jerry was forced to finish the picture with his own money. The film has been tied up in litigation ever since, and all of the parties involved have never been able to reach an agreeable settlement. Jerry hopes to someday complete the film, which remains to this day, a significant expression of cinematic art, suspended in the abyss of international litigation.
Why was it never released? In 2009, Lewis spoke with Entertainment Weekly:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When I asked you about The Day the Clown Cried, you shut me down pretty quickly.
JERRY LEWIS: Why do I want to go there? If you want to play 10 Questions with me, you can ask me any 10 questions you want about it and you’ll get a pretty good amount of answers. And it will only be to satisfy you that it’s not so shut-down because you’re a nice man and I’m comfortable with you. I’ll give you 10 questions.
Okay, I better weigh them…
I’ve never done this before, I’d like to see what I come up with. Don’t f— this up, Chris!
Do they have to be yes/no questions?
No, I didn’t say that. That’s kind of limiting.
Will I ever see The Day the Clown Cried?
He writes on a piece of white paper in green ink: NO.
Is there more than one copy of the film?
He writes: NO.
Is the film in a safe somewhere?
Okay, number four: is the reason the film has not been released because you are unhappy with it?
He writes: Yes/No.
Which doesn’t mean that Yes, I’m unhappy with the work that I did. But who am I preserving it for? No one’s ever gonna see it. But the preservation that I believe is that, when I die, I’m in total control of the material now. Nobody can touch it. After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I have the legalese necessary to keep it where it is. So I’m pretty sure that it won’t be seen. The only thing that I do feel, that I always get a giggle out of, some smart young guy like Chris is going to come up with an idea and he’s going to run the f—ing thing. I would love that. Because he’s going to see a hell of a movie!
I was going to ask you, it’s only creating more interest and tougher criticism if and when it is ever shown.
Of course, of course. What the f— is he saving?!
I’m honestly surprised as hell.I am too. I’m very surprised. There’s a gurgling inside that I get when I think about, would this make certain that the Holocaust would never happen again? It’s too small a piece. It isn’t large enough to make a dynamic impact.
Do you think Jewish audiences would like it?
Jews? Oh, they would love it. I traveled for 18 months from Stuttgart to Belsen to Auschwitz. I was putting together my crew and they brought me a man named Rolf, who was the guy who pulled the f—ing lever on the gas chamber. And I said the only way I ever allow him near me, no less interview him, would be if he understood that I am concerned about the accuracy of the film and it would be because I need some information. But I said to my production manager, “I’m not sure I can handle it.” After about six weeks of pretty good meditation, I talked to the guy. The question nobody could answer, that the victims couldn’t answer, was: Where were they [when they] were waiting for the ones ahead of them in the gas chambers? How long were they waiting? Where were they standing? Was there an adjacent room? Did they sit? What kind of time was involved? The torture here was waiting! And they couldn’t dull the sound effects, the screaming. Could I get that information from this man? I wanted to wear a mask so he wouldn’t know it was me. When he came into the office and sat down, I thought, This poor human being. I’m sitting there and it was five after nine at night by the time we were done talking and I was…undone. But he gave me the bottom of his f—ing soul! He wanted penance. I kept looking at his right hand. I was going to ask him which hand did you do it with? I couldn’t do it.
You can read the film’s script in full here.
Harry Shearer told 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.