Footage from a never-released Jerry Lewis Holocaust film buried since the early 1970s was unearthed on YouTube on Saturday. The now-87-year-old Jewish comedic actor had promised that no one would ever see what he admitted was the “bad, bad, bad” film titled, “The Day the Clown Cried.”
Seven minutes of footage from a 1972 Flemish documentary about the making of the film were uploaded to YouTube. The drama centers on a non-Jewish German circus clown, played by Lewis, who ends up in a Nazi concentration camp for making fun of Adolf Hitler in a bar. In the camp, he performs for enthusiastic Jewish children. The SS guards use the clown to help load the children onto a train to Auschwitz, but he accidentally ends up on the train. The clown is assigned to lead the children to the gas chambers, and he decides to join them in the chamber to entertain them as they are killed.
According to The Times of Israel, Lewis visited Auschwitz and lost 40 lbs. before beginning work on the movie. The behind-the-scenes and interview footage in the Flemish documentary indicate how dedicated to his craft Lewis was, and how seriously he took the making of the film.
After several disastrous test screenings, Lewis spiked the film, vowing never to let it be shown again.
Asked about it 40 years later at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Lewis said, “It was all bad, and it was bad because I lost the magic. You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”
Additionally, Lewis was quoted as saying earlier this year, “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work. And I’m grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anybody see it. It was bad, bad, bad.
“It could have been wonderful,” he continued. “But I slipped up. I didn’t quite get it. And I didn’t quite have enough sense to find out why I’m doing it, and maybe there find an answer. Uh-uh. It will never be seen.”
Actor and director Harry Shearer is one of the few people who have actually seen “The Day the Clown Cried,” and he concurred about how awful it is.
“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,” he told Spy Magazine.
“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.”