Jewish comedian Jerry Lewis promised that no one would ever see his self-described “bad, bad, bad” Holocaust film, “The Day the Clown Cried.”
Now, the 87-year-old’s lost movie has emerged for viewing, at least partially.
A little over seven minutes of the film and behind-the-scenes clips, from a Flemish documentary, were uploaded onto YouTube on Saturday. The footage, which originally appeared on a Flemish website in 2012, has garnered almost 150,00 hits in two days.
The 1972 movie was about a non-Jewish German circus clown, played by Lewis, who is imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for mocking Adolf Hitler in a bar. In the camp, he insists on performing for Jewish children, who become his biggest fans. The SS guards use the clown to help load the children onto a train to Auschwitz, but he accidentally ends up on the train. He is assigned to lead the children to the Auschwitz gas chambers, and eventually insists on joining them in the chamber to entertain them as they are killed.
Lewis visited Dachau and Auschwitz before the film, and lost 40 pounds for the part.
In the clip, Lewis is shown performing gags with a cigar and paper airplane. But it is the footage of Lewis behind the scenes that is especially valuable.
The footage shows Lewis’s dedication to his craft. “Look at the mirror,” says the Flemish announcer in the background, while Lewis is shown applying makeup, “a picture of Jerry as clown with minute directions on how the makeup is to be applied. He has made a series of pictures of every character beforehand, and in the movie they have to correspond to this image.”
Another scene shows Lewis giving tips to his French sound engineer.
While working, Lewis answers questions from an off-screen journalist, explaining his production methods and why he chose certain background music.
He also recalls a conversation he had with Charlie Chaplin.
Lewis’s passion comes through as well. At one point, he gets frustrated with a juggling scene, and can be heard yelling at his crew.
In January, Lewis explained in Los Angeles why he spiked the movie. “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work. And I’m 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,” Lewis continued. “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 find an answer. Uh-uh. It will never be seen.”