|Jerry's Kids, circa 1972:|
You won't hear "You'll Never Walk Alone" the same way again...
Perhaps the most infamous movie never released, The Day the Clown Cried is the 1972 film directed, co-written and starring Jerry Lewis which ended up in a legal mess about ownership rights which kept it from being finished and distributed. That was more than forty years ago. Maybe it was for the best.
What was The Day the Clown Cried about? Here's the synopsis as I first heard it: "Jerry Lewis is a clown in a Nazi concentration camp". Lewis was playing a washed-up German clown named Helmut Dork (?!) who gets drunk one night and bad-mouths Hitler in earshot of some Nazi officers. Dork gets sent to a prison camp, then winds up at Auschwitz where the kommandant uses Dork as a "Judas goat" for herding Jewish children into the gas chambers. In the final scene, Dork chooses to walk with the kids into the chamber and die with them: making the children laugh as the Zyklon-B canisters drop through the chutes.
It was supposed to have been Lewis' first "serious" motion picture: something he had pinned Oscar hopes on. He wanted to try something which wasn't comedy for a change. So he went with a tragic story about the Holocaust. It didn't end well.
(If you're interested, I wrote much more about The Day the Clown Cried on this blog four years ago.)
To this day nobody apart from Lewis himself and a few favored individuals have seen the entirety of The Day the Clown Cried. Lewis purportedly has kept the only copy locked up in his office all this time. Where he once was passionate about finishing and releasing it, he is now adamant that it will never be shown.
So this might be the most we'll ever see of The Day the Clown Cried, courtesy of YouTube user "unclesporkums"...
I'm gonna reiterate what I said four years ago: there's no doubt that The Day the Clown Cried would have been a box-office horror and likely would have upended Jerry Lewis' career for all time had it been released. But even so, it demonstrates how Hollywood was trying to deal with the subject of the Holocaust: something that happened a quarter-century earlier and which people were still trying to grasp. So it can't be said that Jerry Lewis can be faulted for trying. If anything, he made an effort that should be appreciated. A failed and flawed effort, but in retrospect it wasn't one that many others could have attempted. Lewis' heart was in the right place. He just lacked the proper pathos for the project, and I wonder if anyone at the time had it.