"Day the Clown Cried" footage finally available

“The Day The Clown Cried”, the infamous Jerry Lewis film about a clown sent to Auschwitz, finally has footage available…sort of. It’s actually behind the scenes footage from the making of the film, from a Belgian special about Lewis. It’s almost certainly going to be pulled soon, so enjoy it while you can.


What I don’t get is…why was this film considered such a travesty that it never saw the light of day, when Life Is Beautiful, which had a very similar premise, was so celebrated?

Supposedly, Lewis does privately screen it for guests occasionally. The word from those that have allegedly seen it is that it’s pretty bad. (Sorry, no sources at hand.)

I do remember that in Life is Beautiful

The wife and the kid of the clown survives, his sacrifice helped him “win” by hiding to the kid all the injustices the jailers did to them.

In The Day the Clown Died,

All the kids and the clown die in the gas chamber, a mega downer of a movie.

From the Wikipedia article:

For those that are curious, here is a relatively recent clip of Jerry talking about why he won’t release it. To sum up: It’s bad and he was embarrassed and he’s relived he had the power to stop it being seen.

Here it is. It’s an Iphone recording. Turn the volume up.

I always heard it was copyright problems. They didn’t properly get the rights from the original author before making it, and they have been unable to come to a satisfactory arrangement afterwards. Possibly they didn’t try too hard.


Because the concept requires a lot of skill to make it work.

Author Adam-Troy Castro has said: “I have read the screenplay, which is available on-line. It is the kind of story that a brilliant director could render brilliant, a haphazard director could render an embarrassing misfire, and the absolutely wrong actor and director could render loathsome.”

I don’t think anyone has ever thought Jerry Lewis was a brilliant director.

The bit with lighting the cigarette was nicely done, though the makeup was too close to Emitt Kelly’s.

The devil is in the details. For one thing, the original scriptwriters portrayed the Lewis clown character as being a selfish jerk who eventually redeems himself thru his actions. Lewis completely rewrote it and made him a likable, bumbling ‘Emmet Kelly’ character.

But even bigger than that, when dealing with such an incredibly delicate, important and horrific subject it’s a very tricky thing to balance serious dramatic pathos with any kind of comedic element without it coming off as cheesy, schmaltzy melodrama or worse, as I think is the case here, completely inappropriate black comedy that was actually meant to be happiness imposed thru desperation in the face of unimaginable evil.

Harry Shearer is one of the few celebrities to have seen Lewis’ rough cut and he said, “The best way to describe it is driving down to Tijuana and seeing a very intricate, professionally done black & gold velvet painting on a fence of a scene at Auschwitz.” IOW someone put a lot of effort into something that was obviously & ridiculously so totally wrong from the start that it’s almost mesmerizing to see it there actually in front of you!

Here’s a pretty good (but short) blog post about it, from Mark Evanier’s News From ME:

full article here.

I think Jerry finds himself between the devil and the deep blue sea with this film - a movie that a lot of people would like to see, but yet a movie a lot of people have presupposed as ill-conceived and poorly executed. He just can’t win, so really the only card he can play is to keep it under wraps.
It’s my understanding Jerry does not have possession of the negatives, only a video tape copy - do the cinephiles here agree with that?

“Entertainment Weekly” just posted some questions Jerry answered about “Day The Clown Cried” four years ago. See here. No I don’t understand why it took them so long either.


Some more footage has surfaced.

It got referenced in a Batman cartoon, so we know it’s thoroughly permeated the popular culture.

Reportedly, one of the reasons the original script writer fought release of the film is because Lewis changed the script to make the main character more sympathetic. Originally, he was supposed to have been arrogant blowhard named “Karl Schmidt” that eventually redeems himself by the end of the film, But Lewis made him a lovable innocent named, believe it or not, “Helmut Doork”. In a movie that has children rounded up, beaten and eventually gassed, he goes for a gag name for the main character.


He’s given it to the Library of Congress with the rule they can not screen it for 10 years. However, in 10 years, we’ll finally be likely to see it.

This brings up a lot of questions. First off, according to Shawn Levy’s excellent bio of Jerry “King of Comedy”, the film wasn’t released because Jerry failed to pay his studio–who in turn hadn’t paid off the scriptwriters fully and thus had no rights to film it anyway. Has everybody been paid off, or do donations have different rights fees? And why wait ten years?

Maybe he assumes he’ll be dead by then?

I thought that 10 years ago, but this time it has to be true.