A Fall From Grace
In short, it’s nuts.
First comes news this week that Orson Welles's first film, "Too Much Johnson," was found in an Italian warehouse. Now, Bleedingcool.com is sharing perhaps an even more astounding find—footage from Jerry Lewis's infamous unfinished Holocaust film, "The Day the Clown Cried." It's something to see.
Lewis directed and starred in the film, which was based on Joan O'Brien's novel about an egotistical German clown who is arrested for expressing anti-Nazi sentiments and placed in a forced labor camp. His captors charge him with entertaining the children and leading them into the gas ovens.
Timing, as they say, is everything. It would be years before Jerry gained long-denied critical acceptance as a dramatic actor in "The King of Comedy" and "Funny Bones" and a well-received arc on "Wiseguy." But this was 1972, and his previous film was the World War II burlesque, "Which Way to the Front," which tanked at the box office.
"The Day the Clown Cried," a Swiss-French co-production, was a heartfelt pet project for Lewis. He lost up to 40 pounds to play the role. When financing collapsed, he paid for the production out of his own money. It has been tied up in legal knots ever since with no release in sight. He has bristled in interviews when the subject of the film has come up.
For years, about the only reports we had about "The Day the Clown Cried" came from comedian Harry Shearer, who has actually seen it. His oft-quoted assessment: "This movie is so drastically wrong."
But don't get your hopes up too high. While there are cringe-worthy snippets of Lewis acting in character, the bulk of this found footage is of the "Making of" variety. At one point, he is in that fully sincere mode so perfectly caricatured by Martin Short, in which he gets to at once be self-deprecating while dropping Charlie Chaplin's name.
Time heals all wounds, and it seems that Lewis, who as recently as 1992 told interviewers that he hoped "in my lifetime we get the right to pull the film out of Sweden," himself has made peace with "Clown Cried." The Bleedingcool.com post links to a recent interview in which Lewis responds candidly and thoughtfully about his unrealized labor of love: "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."
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