Old School Americana & Nostalgia


Infamous Jerry Lewis Film Unseen for 50 Years Set to Screen Publicly

Infamous Jerry Lewis Film Unseen for 50 Years Set to Screen Publicly

Jerry Lewis’s controversial film, The Day the Clown Cried, shot in 1972, has never been publicly screened. But that may change this year. According to the Middle East newspaper The National, the project is scheduled for a June screening as per a stipulation by Lewis. Years before his passing, a copy was donated to the Library of Congress in the US, with an agreement that it would not be screened until this year. However, recent reports suggest that it may be an early version.

Lewis, who passed away in 2017, decided to keep his infamous film hidden from public view. The original film has never been seen by a wide audience. Of course, this only adds to its legendary status as a lost piece of media.

Learning more specifics about the film’s story, it becomes apparent why Lewis shelved the project. Based on a script by Joan O’Brien and Charles Denton, The Day the Clown Cried tells the story of Helmut Doork, a washed-up German circus clown. After mocking the regime and Adolf Hitler during a drunken rant, Helmut finds himself sent to a Nazi concentration camp. In this harrowing setting, he takes it upon himself to bring moments of joy to the Jewish prisoners, especially the children, before they face the unimaginable fate of the gas chambers.

The Controversial Jerry Lewis Film Was Plagued With Issues Behind the Scenes

All accounts point towards the production of the film encountering numerous setbacks. These included financial shortages that compelled Lewis to dip into his own pockets to complete the film when producer Nat Wachsberger failed to fulfill his obligations. It is said that Lewis transformed the character of Helmut, making him more redeemable and less reprehensible.

In 1992, Spy magazine published an oral history about the production and the ensuing legend. Screenwriter Joan O’Brien found the rough cut she saw to be a “disaster”. This was partly due to Lewis’ softened portrayal of the clown character, which frustrated her.

Within the very same article, Harry Shearer, a veteran voice actor from The Simpsons and a member of Spinal Tap, reviewed the film with his tongue firmly in cheek. The voice of Ned Flanders and Mr. Burns sarcastically described his viewing experience of the legendary film as “awe-inspiring.”

Snark aside, Shearer eventually laid into the film. “This movie is so drastically wrong. Its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced. 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,” he said at the time.