It seems that Jerry Lewis’ infamously unreleased film The Day The Clown Cried has been something of the topic of conversation recently. It was just a few months back that the film made news when it was included in the comic actor/directors’ personal film collection that he donated to the Library of Congress, with the stipulation that Day The Clown Cried could not be exhibited for at least ten years. Of course, some people misinterpreted that donation as meaning that the film was going on the Library of Congress’s National Film Register, a misconception we had to take the time to dispel.
And now the BBC has released a web documentary (embedded below) on the film that features some never before seen photos from the production of the film. In the half-hour documentary, British comic David Schneider doesn’t explore so much the production’s troubled history as it examines Lewis’ motivations for setting a comedy in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and whether or not it was appropriate for him to do so.
There are two things that are really amazing about this documentary.
The first is the wealth of previously unseen behind-the-scenes photos from the project. They were being held by the Swedish Film Institute – Day the Clown Cried was filmed in Sweden – and which had been given to them by the films’ set photographer Roger Tilburg. Interestingly, you don’t see Lewis doing lots of shtick or clowning around. Instead, you see him thoughtfully working with cast and crew or acting out scenes from the film. While it is definitely impossible to judge a film’s tone with any degree of accuracy based on a handful of stills, but it does lead one to wonder if perhaps Lewis was going for something a little more dramatic, serious and thoughtful, but ultimately falling back onto comedic bits due to his own insecurities over the results? The documentary seems to argue that point, referencing a Lewis press conference years after the production had wrapped where the comic expressed that he was “embarassed bythe work” and “grateful” that he had the power to keep it locked away.
Second is a short interview with actor Lars Amble, who passed away shortly afterwards. He gives a little valuable insight into Lewis’ state of mind during the production.he describes Lewis as very “professional” and made him sound well-prepared for the shoot. Although this remembrance is at odds with what actress Harriet Andersson’s biographer states what her memories of the shoot were.
A side note – Host Schneider notes that they had arranged interviews with four other cast members who all “mysteriously” cancelled shortly before they were to be recorded. Conspiracy theorists, make of that what you will.
Just a reminder, Lewis’ moratorium on the Library of Congress being able to screen The Day The Clown Cried expires in 2025.