“The Day The Clown Cried” is one of the most infamous films ever lensed. Even after it was actively suppressed by its creator soon after completion, its staggering lack of taste has become the stuff of legend.
In the early 1970s, Jerry Lewis wrote, directed and starred in a story about a German circus clown named Helmut Doork who ends up in a concentration camp during World War II. Though not Jewish, he ends up entertaining Jewish children in the camp. This forbidden, he is beaten by guards for his transgressions. Eventually a commandant convinces Doork to help load children into a boxcar. He ends up on a train to Auschwitz with them. There, he is used to lead the children to a gas chamber. Overwhelmed with guilt, he joins them in their deaths.
(For those of you who are hearing about this for the first time, please know I am making NONE of this up. My own father had never heard of the thing and the first time I mentioned it many years ago, he thought I was making a joke in very poor taste. I was not. )
Few people outside of hardcore movie nerds and those in the film business even knew the thing existed until a famous 1992 article in Spy magazine about it. Comedian Harry Shearer once saw a version in 1979 and it is worth reprinting his comment from the article in full:
“With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that 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.”
But now, some very enterprising soul has cut together about half an hour of the thing from footage floating around the internet, some obviously from a documentary. This is the most footage of the film most people have ever seen of the movie. It’s certainly the most I have ever seen. View before it vanishes.