“It is the story of a clown, who was once the premier clown, who is no more
the top clown and who is having a difficult time handling being just a small part of the circus.”
In the fall of 2013, I posted an article talking about how footage of the “lost” Jerry Lewis film, The Day the Clown Cried (1972), had surfaced. At the time, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope that the film might one day be seen. Now, recent developments have made that light at the end of the tunnel a little brighter.
The Day the Clown Cried told the story of clown Helmut Doork and dealt with the controversial idea of how he played a role in entertaining the Jewish children prior to leading them into the gas chambers during World War II. As previously discussed, this film was never released. In fact, it appears that it was never completely finished. Lewis would avoid talking about the film for many years but he just recently began answering questions. In a press conference from August 2013, he had this answer for Jan Humboldt, Swedish film critic, who asked if we would ever see the film.
“No. Nope. You want to know why? Simply because it’s very easy to sit in front of an audience and expound on your feelings. It’s another thing to have to deal with those feelings. And in terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work and I was 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 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 would be an answer. Uh uh, it’ll never be seen. Sorry.”
Jan Humboldt was interviewed for a BBC documentary, The Story of The Day the Clown Cried, which includes interviews with some involved with the project. Countless photographic stills have been discovered in the archives of the Swedish Film Institute. There are insights as to how Jerry Lewis’ working relationship with the cast was strained at times, possibly due to medication and back problems he was suffering at the time. Good friends at the beginning of filming would become nothing more than a co-worker by the end.
The possible increasing glimmer of a chance that we may see the film in our lifetime comes from the fact that Jerry Lewis recently donated his entire filmography to the Library of Congress. Amongst the films is something called Le Jour Ou’Le Clown Pleura, which is French for The Day the Clown Cried. The caveat with the donation of the film being that it could not be screened for another ten years. By 2025, Jerry Lewis will turn 99 years old. While it is certainly possible that Lewis could still be alive, it is honestly doubtful, considering his various health problems over the years.
How the film would be seen, assuming the Library of Congress chooses to show it, is debatable. I wouldn’t count on a Blu-ray release due to the still outstanding rights issues, not to mention how some of the crew still claim to be owed for their work. But there could certainly be an opportunity for a special screening, perhaps even a charity event in his name. Interest in the film continues to grow and with this news, the mystique of this “lost” piece of cinematic history will likely increase.
Watch the fascinating BBC documentary, featuring host and Jewish comedian David Schneider, for more information on the intriguing history of this film that continues to be fleshed out in pieces over time. It’s a story that fascinates me and one I will continue to follow, sharing with you any news that becomes available.