The Day the Clown Cried is one of Hollywood’s most infamous lost films. Shot in the early seventies, the film was directed by and starred Jerry Lewis as a German clown who gets arrested for mocking Hitler, and as a punishment is forced to lead kids into Auschwitz gas chambers. Very few people saw the movie, as Lewis quickly learned from screenings that it was a disaster. This year at the Cannes Film Festival, he told reporters, “It was bad, and it was bad because I lost the magic. You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I’m embarrassed at the poor work.” No one will probably ever see the whole thing, but a clip from a Dutch behind-the-scenes documentary has emerged and is able to offer us a rare glimpse into the movie.
It’s not the first behind-the-scenes clip to emerge from the film (here’s another one), but it definitely has the most footage. And we better cling to whatever we can with this, as it seems incredibly unlikely that we’ll ever see the whole thing. Which is a shame, because it sounds nuts. The most evocative account of the film comes from Harry Shearer, who actually saw it. In a Spy magazine interview (he also talked to Howard Stern about it), Shearer said:
“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. 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.”