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Watch: Behind The Scenes Footage From 'The Day The Clown Cried,' Jerry Lewis Admits He's Embarrassed By The Film

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by Charlie Schmidlin
March 15, 2013 9:42 AM
7 Comments
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As Jack Black in Richard Linklater’s “Bernie” showed most recently this past year, the right dramatic role and assured tone can create a new context for a slew of comedic actors, and rejuvenate a career that is slowly being backed into a corner. However, none of those efforts featured a Holocaust setting, a troubled production, and eventual disownment like legendary actor/director Jerry Lewis’ 1971 debacle, “The Day the Clown Cried” – a film still unseen to near-everyone, but glimpsed partially in rare behind-the-scenes footage like the material that exists today.

An unspoken conversation from “The Producers” come to life, Lewis’ film centers on a German circus clown, Helmut Dorque (whom he also plays). The depressed funnyman is sent to a concentration camp, but once there, he changes course as a maniacal Pied Pieper leading children into gas chambers. The reason? They’re his best audience yet. Naturally, Lewis, thought his “Nutty Professor” fanbase would initially balk, but buy tickets in droves by the end.

Archival behind-the-scenes footage has cropped up (via Dangerous Minds), and while Lewis appears jovial and perfectly in control, the truth is he was as rightly nervous as befitting the concept. “I had been 113 days on the picture, with only three hours of sleep a night…I was exhausted, beaten,” Lewis reflected later (via Spy Magazine) on the last day, which featured him leading the gathered children to their doom. “I thought, ‘This is what my whole life has been leading to.’ I forgot about trying to direct. I had the camera run and began to walk…”

In the end, the film never finished past the rough cut phase, with the Stockholm studio keeping the negative under requirement of a $600,000 fee; elsewhere, screenwriters Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton own the copyright, and efforts to solve both problems have only created more.

Lewis owns a copy himself, on a videotape in his office. Only a select few people have seen it, including O’Brien, Denton, Harry Shearer and reporter Lynn Hirschberg. All have essentially confirmed it as mind-bogglingly misjudged. “’Oh my God’ – that’s all you can say,” said Shearer.

As for the question of the general public getting a peek anytime soon, the answer came as a swift, curt “No” from Lewis, when he was interviewed at Los Angeles’ film institution The Cinefamily. “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed,” he said. “I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad.”

 So it seems either get in tight with Lewis for a personal sneak peek, or simply be satiated with the archival footage below – an all too fleeting glance at one of the most compelling cinematic misses around.

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7 Comments

  • Luke Sacher | March 24, 2013 2:07 PMReply

    YOU BASTARDS. I will see to it that you pay for your transgression.

  • Luke Sacher | March 24, 2013 2:04 PMReply

    you are violating copyright. I will report you to Mr. Lewis. He will SUE you.

  • d | March 24, 2013 4:13 PM

    What? They didn't upload the videos, buddy.

  • Penta | March 16, 2013 1:35 AMReply

    Jerry Lewis turns 87 and has a new movie in post production (Max Rose). What a nice way to celebrate by focusing on this film and linking to clips that have been on youtube a while now.

  • Milano | March 15, 2013 10:59 PMReply

    You might enjoy "The Shooting Script," a novel about a movie geek detective tracking down a copy of "The Day the Clown Cried"....

  • Gould | March 15, 2013 5:48 PMReply

    French filmaker Xavier Gianoli has a print copy of he film.

  • Blah | March 15, 2013 1:53 PMReply

    How obsessed can people be for a movie that did not materialize...When Lewis has done loads of others.... One failure (and I bet now there'll be a listing of others) during a career that has lasted so long....
    The TDTCLC seems to turn everyone into a comedian with an effort to do one liners in regards to the project...At least this article tries to stay away from those..
    Oh...and Benigni?

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