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Behind the Scenes: Jerry Lewis’ ‘Holocaust Clown’ Movie

After forty years, is the worst movie you've never seen any closer to being released?

by
Kathy Shaidle

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August 23, 2013 - 5:00 pm
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Only a few years ago, news that footage of Jerry Lewis’ legendary lost film The Day the Clown Cried had been unearthed and then posted on the internet would’ve sent me into a day-long movie-geek freakout.

Judging by the avalanche of online reaction, there are still some folks eager to view even short scenes from this infamous 1971 mess-terpiece.

I’m just not one of them.

Legend has it that the only surviving copy of The Day the Clown Cried is locked in a vault, a casualty of international legal disputes and Lewis’ legendary perfectionism and/or Percodan dependency.

He recently reiterated what he’s maintained for decades:

The movie will never be released to the public.

Oh, come on, you’re thinking. Sure, this is a Jerry Lewis movie we’re talking about, but how bad can it be?

Well, it’s about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp who leads children, Pied-Piper-style, into the gas chambers.

So there’s that.

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All Comments   (18)
All Comments   (18)
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I don't know Jerry Lewis and I doubt anyone does. I think I first heard about this years ago in ...AFI? Anyway, when I hear people talk about the Holocaust, (people who weren't there) it's interesting to note what they think or feel our take-away from it should be. Because some of us have actually heard people who were in it speak, and they can't tell you. They can't tell you the 'whys' and 'because's.'

David Lynch, I think, said that one of the best cinematic moments occurred in a film by Ed Wood, called GLEN OR GLENDA, a freaky flick way ahead of the curve. It's a cinematic camera movement from the action to a ...steam radiator. I thought it was kind of cool when I saw it because it was so strange, and then I figured out why. I seriously doubt that WOOD, who has won numerous posthumous accolades as the worst American Director in history, knew why such a shot 'worked.'

Whatever Lewis got wrong, I'm willing to bet he got some things right. If he did so, on this subject nobody is going to feel very comfortable.
Schindler's list was a great story and monumentally told. Almost like Ben Hur.
I loved it. But it's a narrative. It highlights a person during a time when there are no highlights. The camps weren't like that because even if you wound up in a Nazi propaganda movie, you weren't being filmed in an historic fashion by an Oscar winning cinematographer. Maus is a whole lot closer to it.

So, yes, I would watch the film. I would give up a couple of hours of my life to see if the subject were breached in a new way.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That pied piper bit (and chidren to the gas chamber) reminds me of something I once read about Mengele (I won't repeat it).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Slap-stick comedy relies on ridicule, embarrassment, and cruelty. (See also: The Three Stooges.) In the hands of a master, slap-stick can be everyman-funny enough to take the sting out, but it's rare. Jerry Lewis balanced precariously on the tightrope between deft and clumsy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I guess all this should make us grateful that Adam Sandler doesn't try for dramatic roles...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are so wrong. Adam Sandler often does a GREAT job when he takes on serious (and "semi-serious" roles). Think Spanglish, Punch-Drunk Love, 50 First Dates... It's when he does his manic comic schtick that he's unbearable. I've said the same about John Leguizamo, another "comedian" who does much better when he's NOT playing himself.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I never saw a single movie with Jerry Lewis in it that I liked, not even the ones in which he was paired up with Dean Martin. There was always something nasty and self-centered about him that made him just seem obnoxious to me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Day the Clown Cried is the Holy Grail of never released movies.

As a lover of bad movies I have to see it!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Even as a kid in the early 1950s, I disliked Jerry Lewis. There was something malevolent in his face, nasty in his manic delivery, something not to like there. This is the first I have heard of this movie, and I pray, last.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I used to find him mildly amusing.

Then I saw him in a dramatic part one time, where he played a bad guy. (Sorry, I don't recall the name of the film.) He played it very well. TOO well.

I realized he wasn't acting. I was seeing the REAL Jerry Lewis. Cruel, evil, hateful. It was malevolent. A good person just cannot project that depth of evil.

I've seen that one other time, with another "beloved" actor.

Andy Griffith.

Both he and Lewis are GREAT actors, not because they can act the part of a truly evil person convincingly, but because they can both play a good and decent person convincingly.

That's the only time they are acting.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
... and he is not funny.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
... and the French think Jerry Lewis is a genius.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's precisely that reason - that the French think he's a genius - that probably convinced him to make the film. I agree with Chattolanee. I, too, was a kid in the '50s and, believe me, he was no Sid Caesar, or even Uncle Miltie, for that matter. I've always thought that the French found Lewis to be such a genius because, to them, he's the perfect representative of the vulgarity and crassness of American culture, so bad he's good.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Well, it’s about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp who leads children, Pied-Piper-style, into the gas chambers."

What's the clown's name, Barack?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Well, it’s about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp who leads children, Pied-Piper-style, into the gas chambers."

What's the clown's name, Barack?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I knew I'd heard about this one somewhere before. It earns a mention on the "Audience Alienating Premise" tropes page:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AudienceAlienatingPremise

A few of the other pieces mentioned there that just aren't likely to have much of a target audience: A Serbian Film, featuring the graphic rape of a newborn baby; Trash Humpers, in which guys hump trash (really!); and Sex Lives of the Potato Men, which is also about pretty much exactly what the title says.

Oh yeah, and then there's this:

http://www.funnyordie.com/articles/4421e33c23/7-movies-that-are-all-about-kiddie-sex

I guess a Jerry Lewis movie about the Holocaust is probably something like what you'd get if Woody Allen made a movie about 9/11.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wow, the Potato Men is a new one one me, and sounds a bit too much like my dating days to check out :-)

The 'trouble' is that those premises you mentioned are patently intentionally disgusting (btw The Serbian Film also has the guy raping his own son -- apparently, I'm never watching it). Same with Cannibal Holocaust.

However, what puts Day the Clown Cried on a whole other level is that it was supposed to be a serious (in the hands of Lewis, read "bathetic") meditation on human suffering during a real life event.

The 9/11 comparison is quite apt although I almost think Woody Allen could MAYBE pull it off it you mean a movie about how a bunch of NYers were effected by the event. (Has he ever mentioned it in any of his subsequent movies by the way? Hmmmm.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm QUITE sure that no New Yorkers were effected by 9/11.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Affect_vs_Effect
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Re Potato Men, I've heard of "potato smut" before, but this...

Meanwhile, I've swam through more than my share of cinematic sewers. There used to be, back fifteen years ago, a web site called "Disturbing Films." It became my check list. I've sat through disgusting (like the afore mentioned Cannibal Holocaust) and seen painfully ill advised (like-- quick and easy example -- the musical remake of Lost Horizon). I'm thinking the clown falls more into the latter category -- along with Lewis's Which Way To the Front?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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