Jerry Lewis died today at the age of 91. He died of natural causes at home with his family at his side, according to all reports. It didn’t take long for a Twitter trend to bubble-up for The Day The Clown Cried, which is a movie that Lewis not only had the lead role in, but he directed it as well. There is something different about this movie than the other movies Lewis did; this is a film that no one has seen.
The Day The Clown Cried was a movie Jerry Lewis made decades ago, but he would never let the public view the film. His reason for keeping it out of the public eye was never completely known, and now that he is gone, it will probably remain a mystery as to why he wanted to keep the film tucked away.
It is a mystery in Hollywood that has spread among film buffs all over the world. The film was considered “ambitious” and “intensely personal,” which is how Entertainment Weekly described what’s been heard about the movie over the years. The never-released film The Day the Clown Cried, was made back in 1972 when Lewis was 46.
He had traveled to Sweden at the time, to not only star in the film, but to direct it as well. The movie has become “sort of a Holy Grail for movie buffs,” suggests EW. This is much like the original uncut version of Orson Wells’ The Magnificent Ambersons.
According to the Los Angeles Times, when Rob Stone, who is the moving-image curator at the Library of Congress, revealed that he had acquired a Jerry Lewis movie collection for the library back in 2014, the big question was asked. Was the film The Day The Clown Cried among those in the collection? Stone confirmed the rumors that The Day The Clown Cried was indeed included.
— The Playlist (@ThePlaylist) August 20, 2017
Stone said that Lewis was approached a few years ago about donating his vast archives of movies.
“The deal — including ‘thousands’ of reels of film — was consummated in June of 2014,” according to Page Six.
Part of the agreement of acquiring the film was that it would not be shown for 10 years. The film, in which Lewis plays a German circus clown, was set in a Nazi prison camp that turned into a concentration camp. Lewis’ character is ordered to perform for the Jewish children as they were led into the gas chambers, as Page Six described the plot.
“Lewis plays a washed-up German circus clown who is forced by Nazis to lure children to their deaths in concentration-camp gas chambers after he criticizes Hitler. “
— Andy Craik (@andycraik) January 5, 2016
Through the decades, The Day The Clown Cried has been the topic of speculation, as critics and journalists alike have pondered the reasons this “lost” movie was never released. According to EW, these questions have all been asked over the years.
“Was it because of a dispute with the French producer? Was it because the film hit too raw of a nerve? Or, as has been suggested by some who have claimed to have seen it (including comedian Harry Shearer) was it just embarrassingly bad?”
— Lou Lumenick (@LouLumenick) August 25, 2015
The mystery behind Lewis keeping this film out of sight has never been solved. When asked over the years, Lewis has always been evasive, giving rather vague, short answers to those questions. EW suggests that not only did Lewis appear to guard the mystery, but he appeared to enjoy fueling the mystery at the same time.
According to Consequence of Sound, Lewis did not like to talk about the movie.
“God help you if you ask him about it in interviews. You’re usually warned well in advance that the subject is off-limits,” reports COS. If you didn’t heed the warnings, he was not overly forgiving about the questions presented to him on The Day The Clown Cried.
Jerry Lewis died at home today, August 20, 2017, of natural causes. He was 91. The reason he didn’t want that film viewed went with him to his grave, but according to Rob Stone, The Day The Clown Cried will be out from under any restrictions after a decade has passed from the 2014 deal made between the Library of Congress and Lewis.
That film will sit in the Library of Congress, along with the remainder of the Jerry Lewis collection that has been acquired. But it will take another seven years before it will be out from under their agreement that was made upon acquiring the movie. It looks like movie buffs have a lot to look forward to in 2024. Below is a documentary on the film, which contains some clips from the original.
[Featured Image by Jean Jacques Levy/AP Images]