The Arty Semite

Watch: Jerry Lewis's Holocaust Movie

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Footage from a never-released Jerry Lewis Holocaust film buried since the early 1970s was unearthed on YouTube on Saturday. The now-87-year-old Jewish comedic actor had promised that no one would ever see what he admitted was the “bad, bad, bad” film titled, “The Day the Clown Cried.”

YouTube

Seven minutes of footage from a 1972 Flemish documentary about the making of the film were uploaded to YouTube. The drama centers on a non-Jewish German circus clown, played by Lewis, who ends up in a Nazi concentration camp for making fun of Adolf Hitler in a bar. In the camp, he performs for enthusiastic Jewish children. The SS guards use the clown to help load the children onto a train to Auschwitz, but he accidentally ends up on the train. The clown is assigned to lead the children to the gas chambers, and he decides to join them in the chamber to entertain them as they are killed.

According to The Times of Israel, Lewis visited Auschwitz and lost 40 lbs. before beginning work on the movie. The behind-the-scenes and interview footage in the Flemish documentary indicate how dedicated to his craft Lewis was, and how seriously he took the making of the film.

After several disastrous test screenings, Lewis spiked the film, vowing never to let it be shown again.

Asked about it 40 years later at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Lewis said, “It was all bad, and it was bad because I lost the magic. You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”

Additionally, Lewis was quoted as saying earlier this year, “In terms of that film, I was embarrassed. 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.

“It could have been wonderful,” he continued. “But I slipped up. I didn’t quite get it. And I didn’t quite have enough sense to find out why I’m doing it, and maybe there find an answer. Uh-uh. It will never be seen.”

Actor and director Harry Shearer is one of the few people who have actually seen “The Day the Clown Cried,” and he concurred about how awful it is.

“With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object,” he told Spy Magazine.

“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. “Oh My God!” — that’s all you can say.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Day the Clown Cried, Renee Ghert-Zand, Jerry Lewis, Film

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.