Well, here is some news I honestly never thought I would be writing, but it appears that Jerry Lewis’ infamously shelved clown-in-a-concentration camp movie The Day The Clown Cried may actually become available for the public to see it. It’s just that we may have to wait a bit before the first screenings are held.
The news comes buried in an LA Times article about the Library of Congress’ film collection and how incomplete copies of silent films were being identified with the help of films. Rob Stone, the moving-image curator at the Library of Congress, was filling in the group on some of the Library’s other recent acquisitions.
Stone also let the group in on secrets, like the Jerry Lewis collection he had just acquired on behalf of the library.
Did he really have the film negative of “The Day the Clown Cried,” an unreleased Holocaust comedy that Lewis regretted making? Yes, Stone said, but the library agreed to not show the film for at least 10 years.
OK, now everyone has a reason to stay alive for the next 10 years.
For the uninitiated, The Day The Clown Cried was a film that Jerry Lewis directed and starred in back in 1972 and featured the comedian as a German clown sent to a concentration camp for mocking Adolf Hitler, where he is forced to entertain and keep quiet children as they wait in line for the gas chambers. As premises go, it as about as dark as one can get and Lewis was very much saw the film as his chance of doing something deeply moving a serious. This is definitely not The Nutty Professor Goes To Auschwitz. The shoot was reportedly fairly rough, leading an under-pressure Lewis to reportedly yell at one point at one child extra “There’s no room for Shirley Temple in a concentration camp!”
Unfortunately, Lewis’ producer on the picture, Nathan Wachsberger, failed to renew the option on the screenplay he bought from sad-eyed clown Emmett Kelly’s former press agent Joan O’Brien and a flurry of lawsuits and threats of legal action shelved the movie while Lewis was still editing it. Reportedly the rough cut that exists contains no soundtrack or opening or end credits.
Although the film has never been in circulation, its screenplay has. It is upon that script that the film’s reputation of being perhaps one of the worst films ever committed to celluloid has been built. And it is a terrible script. I read it almost ten years ago now – and wrote about it here – and I can still remember passages that were just absolutely awful. For decades the script has been copied and passed around Hollywood and film fans, meeting an almost universally appalled reaction.
The common wisdom was that the film would stay locked in a safe in Lewis’ office away from prying eyes, right where it has been for the past couple of decades. (Comedian Harry Shearer is reportedly one of a very small handful of people who has seen the film, getting access to see it through a friend who worked for Lewis’s office at one point.) As we always knew where the film was, it was never really a “lost film,” but it had always appeared that the chances of it ever being seen by the general public were about the same as expecting the lost Lon Chaney film London After Midnight to suddenly turn up somewhere. But now, it appears as if this long sought after film will finally be available to fans, albeit a decade from now, to determine if it lives up to its legacy.