Jerry Lewis’ 1972 film The Day The Clown Cried is the Great White Whale of terrible films. That’s partially because a Holocaust-based movie about a German clown who leads Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chamber can’t help but be unspeakably awful, but mostly because very few people have actually seen it. Z-movie buffs can rejoice to the deity of their choice (Gamera?) because 30 minutes of Clown have made their way online.
The film — which Lewis wrote, directed and starred in — has been hidden away from view because of legal issues and the fact that Jerry Lewis himself thinks it’s a pile of hot garbage. While the clip above is patched together from a variety of sources (and largely dubbed in German), this is the most complete cut anyone outside of Lewis’ inner circle has ever seen. Comedian Harry Shearer just happened to be one of those to see the complete cut, and here’s how he described the film to Spy magazine.
“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.”
There’s hope for fans who are left wanting more by this rag-tag collection of clips. The Library of Congress recently received Jerry Lewis’ entire film archive in 2014. However, the institution had to agree that Clown would not see the light of day for 10 years. Until June 2024, we’ll just have to warm ourselves in the glow of this BBC documentary.