'The Day the Clown Cried,' Jerry Lewis' Nazi-Themed Film, Sampled Online (Video)

Tuesday, 13 Aug 2013 10:19 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Jerry Lewis directed, wrote, and starred in a Nazi-themed movie in 1972, "The Day the Clown Cried," in which he played a circus clown tasked by the Third Reich with tricking children into concentration camp gas chambers, but the film was never released and Lewis wants it forgotten.

Recently, however, a 7-minute video clip from material related to the failed film surfaced on YouTube.

Lewis has described "The Day the Clown Cried" as "bad, bad, bad."

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"No one will ever see it, because I'm embarrassed," the 87-year-old Lewis told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival in May. "I believed in the work and the way it should have been, and it wasn't."

In the Los Angeles Times, John Horn wrote that "The Day the Clown Cried" is considered one of the great fiascoes in modern movie history, joining the ranks of “Ishtar,” “Gigli,” “Howard the Duck” and “Heaven’s Gate.”

In the film, a down-on-his-luck German circus clown named Helmut Doork is arrested after drunkenly mocking Adolf Hitler and placed in a concentration camp awaiting trial, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Doork is later put on a train headed to Auschwitz packed with Jewish children. At the concentration camp, Doork is forced to perform for the children, Pied Piper-style, as they are led to the gas chambers. He joins them in the gas chamber in the film's final scene.

After it was shelved, the film was only seen by a handful of people.

One of the few who did see the film in a 1979 private showing was actor Harry Shearer, 69, who is known for his voice overs on Fox's animated sitcom "The Simpsons," and his role in the 1984 film "This Is Spinal Tap."

"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," Shearer told Spy Magazine in 1992.

The YouTube clip shows Lewis behind the scenes as he dresses and prepares for his role, making eerie smiles into the camera with a face coated in makeup, while juggling balls and trying to light a cigarette from an uncooperative candle.

According to the New York Post, Lewis thought he was wrong for the role.

In his autobiography "Jerry Lewis in Person," the Post reported, Lewis said he told the producer, Nathan Wachsberger, "Why don't you try to get Sir Laurence Olivier? I mean, he doesn't find it too difficult to choke to death playing Hamlet. My bag is comedy, Mr. Wachsberger, and you're asking me if I'm prepared to deliver helpless kids into a gas chamber? Ho-ho. Some laugh – how do I pull it off?"

Lewis, who was born Joseph Levitch and is of Russian Jewish ancestry, began performing at five years of age and is known for his slapstick humor in film, television, stage and radio.

In addition to his comedic work, Lewis is perhaps best known to younger audiences for his charity work involving muscular dystrophy through the long running annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, which ran from 1966 to 2010 and raised more than $2.6 billion, Australia's ABC.net reported.

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Related stories:

Jerry Lewis Makes Surprise Appearance

Jerry Lewis: Female Comics Still No Laughing Matter for Him

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