Jerry Lewis directed and starred in a 1972 movie about a clown who is imprisoned for mocking Hitler and is forced to lead groups of Jewish children to the gas chambers. The Day the Clown Cried is more sobering than Lewis' comedic roles, most famously The Nutty Professor, but you'll probably never see the film. It's one of cinema's most famous unreleased titles, and Lewis would like to keep it that way.
"I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all, and never let anyone see it. It was bad, bad, bad," the actor told an audience at Cinefamily earlier this year. Originally, Lewis blamed financial problems, real issues the crew faced that genuinely slowed production and unnerved the comedian, but it ultimately came down to pride.
Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer was one of the few people to see a rough cut of the movie and had this to say about it: "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 was talk about remaking The Day the Clown Cried years later, with Richard Burton, Robin Williams and William Hurt all considered for Lewis' lead role, but nothing managed to come together.
Lewis has made good on his promise that no one will ever set eyes on his project, but The Playlist
has shared a behind-the-scenes video that was created for Dutch television. There is some brief footage from the film featured, as well as interviews with Lewis, and clips of him in clown makeup. We also learn that Lewis played music before and during shooting to set the tone of each scene. He later extracted the music and asked a composer to write something similar to maintain the mood. "I'm an old-fashioned filmmaker," Lewis tells the interviewer. "When they did films years ago, Charlie Chaplin told me that he would never work without a violin on the set. He told me how they used to play music for the silent films. And it's a great idea. I've always done it."
Here's a seven-minute look at one of film's most elusive projects.