This is a guest post from Tabitha Vidaurri, a writer and comedinette from Brooklyn
In 1971 Jerry Lewis infamously directed and starred in a film about the Holocaust titled The Day the Clown Cried. For reasons that are still unclear, Lewis chose to depart from his trademark slapstick formula and play the role of Helmut Dorque, a German circus clown who ends up leading Jewish children to the gas chamber.
The film was never finished or released for obvious reasons (not even the French were behind him on this one). Apparently Lewis has refused to talk about Clown in interviews, which I find odd—you’d figure a comedian famous for falling down and making stupid faces would jump at the chance to discuss his utterly humorless movie about a clown in a WWII German concentration camp!
In the behind the scenes footage (see below) we get a glimpse of Lewis fulfilling his duties as a director: leading the film crew, checking the cameras, and dancing around wearing a neck brace. Ambient sound has been added to enhance the overarching sense of alienation, except it isn’t really necessary because this is footage of Jerry Lewis talking to Nazis.
This slideshow of rare production stills shows a gratuitous number of photos of Lewis in full clown makeup, and to escalate the creepiness of him posing with children he presumably later leads to their deaths, the sequence is set to doo-wop music performed by Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners.
Since the videos are absent of dialogue, here’s an excerpt from the script to give you a little taste of the abyss:
(screaming at top of voice)
Come back, damn you, come back. The
children… they’re laughing. They’re
laughing. I am a clown. I am a clown.
He turns back to the children and again bows. He quickly leans down, looks at his reflection in the puddle, and scoops up a handful of mud which he plasters on his nose to make a bulbous, artificial proboscis. He turns back to the children and in pantomime, pretends to see a fly buzzing about and tries to swat it. The imaginary fly buzzes closer.
The CAMERA MOVES UP TO—CLOSE SHOT—HELMUT
As the “fly” lands on his nose. He looks cross-eyed at the mud blob, then swats at it. The blob falls off.
To cleanse yourself of this massive, historical failure I suggest taking a shower and then watching The King of Comedy.