It will still be at least nine years until we see “The Day the Clown Cried,” Jerry Lewis’ legendary “lost” film about the Holocaust. But a new BBC documentary brings us closer to understanding exactly what Lewis, who was so disappointed with the finished product that he has kept it locked out of sight for decades, thought he was up to. “The Story of ‘The Day the Clown Cried'” also includes previously unseen photos from the set and an archival interview with one of the film’s actors. According to host David Schneider, four new interviews were scheduled with members of the film’s cast, but all were mysteriously canceled at the last minute, perhaps suggesting that Lewis is no more eager for people involved with the film to talk about it now than he is for it to be seen. “I was ashamed of the work,” Lewis says in a clip from a recent interview. “It was bad, bad, bad.”
There are vintage interviews with Lewis himself, in which he promises, “You will see wonderful things happen to a human being, because somethings happen that make him think about things other besides himself,” before abruptly shutting down questions, and second-hand testimony from one of Lewis’ late co-stars and the film’s producer, who discuss its impressive recreations of Auschwitz and its difficult post-production. But there are still many questions unanswered, including the elemental issue of how much, if any, comedy the film was ever intended to contain. We know “The Day the Clown Cried” exists, and the Library of Congress has a copy, but Lewis has kept most of the other information under lock and key, and he shows little sign of changing his mind.