30-minute clip of lost Jerry Lewis Holocaust film surfaces

Movie described by Jewish comedian as ‘bad, bad, bad’ was acquired by Library of Congress on condition it not be shown until June 2024

Jerry Lewis in 'The Day the Clown Cried' (photo credit: Screenshot/YouTube)
Jerry Lewis in 'The Day the Clown Cried' (photo credit: Screenshot/YouTube)

A 30-minute cut of Jewish comedian Jerry Lewis’s lost Holocaust movie has surfaced online, months after the BBC aired a documentary about the film the comedian had vowed no one would ever see.

The rough clip was put together using YouTube videos made from footage grabbed from a German documentary on the film Lewis once described as “bad, bad, bad.”

The 1972 ‘The Day the Clown Cried’ 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, which was shot in Paris and Sweden in 1972, and lost 40 pounds for the part. It was expected to be shown at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, but Lewis, at first passionate about the project, hid all of the footage, saying that he was too embarrassed to show it.

“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,” he said earlier this year.

“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.”

“It was all bad, and it was bad because I lost the magic,” Lewis told Reuters in 2013. “You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”

According to Variety Magazine, the entire film archive exists intact and was acquired by the Library of Congress last year, on the condition that it would not be shown until June 2024.

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