“It’s either better than ‘Citizen Kane‘ or the worst piece of shit that anyone ever loaded on the projector…,” Jerry Lewis joked last year about his now legendary, unreleased film, “The Day the Clown Cried.” And while the movie remains locked up in a vault somewhere, likely never to be seen, more morsels from the movie have found their way online.
You might remember that in August, seven minutes from a vintage Flemish documentary about the movie landed online. Now, there’s even more. 13 minutes total from the doc (unsubtitled, unfortunately) provide an even greater window into the movie that ambitiously saw Lewis playing a circus clown who is arrested by the Gestapo after mocking Hitler and given the gruesome task of helping the Nazis lead Jewish children to concentration camp gas chambers.
By most accounts from the very few people who have seen the movie, it’s a train wreck, but Lewis went above and beyond in trying to do the concept right. And this anecdote in particular that he shared with EW, is pretty remarkable.
I traveled for 18 months from Stuttgart to Belsen to Auschwitz. I was putting together my crew and they brought me a man named Rolf, who was the guy who pulled the f—ing lever on the gas chamber. And I said the only way I ever allow him near me, no less interview him, would be if he understood that I am concerned about the accuracy of the film and it would be because I need some information. But I said to my production manager, “I’m not sure I can handle it.” After about six weeks of pretty good meditation, I talked to the guy. The question nobody could answer, that the victims couldn’t answer, was: Where were they [when they] were waiting for the ones ahead of them in the gas chambers? How long were they waiting? Where were they standing? Was there an adjacent room? Did they sit? What kind of time was involved? The torture here was waiting! And they couldn’t dull the sound effects, the screaming. Could I get that information from this man? I wanted to wear a mask so he wouldn’t know it was me. When he came into the office and sat down, I thought, This poor human being. I’m sitting there and it was five after nine at night by the time we were done talking and I was…undone. But he gave me the bottom of his f—ing soul! He wanted penance. I kept looking at his right hand. I was going to ask him which hand did you do it with? I couldn’t do it.
Intense indeed, but as always, don’t hold your breath that “The Day the Clown Cried” will ever see the light of day, as Lewis says in the same interview: “Nobody can touch it. After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I have the legalese necessary to keep it where it is. So I’m pretty sure that it won’t be seen.”
So for now, this material will have to suffice. Watch below.