Comedian/actor Jerry Lewis is mostly known as the star of laugh-out-loud comedies like The Bellboy and The Nutty Professor. But in the early 1970s, Lewis co-wrote, directed, and starred in The Day the Clown Cried, which follows an imprisoned circus clown who is sent to a concentration camp during World War II and used to help lure Jewish children to their deaths at Auschwitz. Unsurprisingly, the film was met with much controversy, and was eventually put under lock-and-key once production wrapped, at Lewis’ request.
Though the film remains unreleased to the public, the BBC recently premiered a new documentary called The Story of the Day the Clown Cried, which chronicles the film’s rocky history. The 29-minute TV special features never-before-seen photos and other production materials, plus archived interviews that provide a clue as to why Lewis wanted to bury the film.
“I was embarrassed,” Lewis said during a 2013 Q&A at Cinefamily in Los Angeles. “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.”
Over the decades, The Day the Clown Cried has become a Hollywood legend, as only a handful of people have actually seen it; actor Harry Shearer is one of the chosen few, and told Spy Magazine about the experience in 1992.
Although The Day the Clown Cried is one of the most sought-after films in cinema history, audiences might finally get a chance to see it in the next decade. In 2015, Jerry Lewis donated the film to the Library of Congress for preservation, with a 10-year embargo on screening it publicly. So the earliest we’d get to see a completed version of The Day the Clown Cried would be 2025.
[h/t The Film Stage]
Header image via YouTube