Film: The Day the Clown Cried
Jerry Lewis as a clown! What a great idea for a movie—it's set WHERE?!!
In 1972, Jerry Lewis
directed a film about a Holocaust-era German clown entertaining Jewish children in a concentration camp.It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
The script was co-written by Joan O'Brien and Charles Denton with Lewis overseeing the final treatment. It was to star Lewis himself, although he was very reluctant to take the project initially. He ended up heading the project in order to pave the way for a career as a serious actor and director.
While the subject matter obviously raised more than a few eyebrows, the production was marred by other factors contributing to its Development Hell
. Equipment was lost, production ran out of money, and the option to make the film had since expired (the script had been floating around Hollywood for ten years). Lewis opted to pay for the film himself but the producer and script writers could not come to an agreement, so he attempted to leave production. The producer, Nat Waschberger, threatened to sue Lewis for breach of contract. Enough of the film had been completed by this point that it was edited together despite the legal issues. However, Lewis took the only tape and locked it away, never to be seen outside of a few private screenings.
The story involved Helmut Doork (Lewis), a circus clown in Nazi Germany who once had a stunning career throughout Europe. Now down on his luck, he finds himself on the verge of a forced retirement. One night, in a drunken stupor, he rants against Germany and even mocks Hitler. This lands him in prison where his troubles get worse.
After suffering abuse from the prison guards, he wanders to the Jewish section of the camp. Through the chainlink fence, he notices a group of Jewish children. He performs for them and finds that they appreciate his act, filling him with a sense of hope. The head of the camp does not approve at first but soon gives him the job of loading the children into trains for "deportment". Doork agrees on the condition that he is able to make an appeal. One night, due to a mishap, he is loaded onto a train along with the children. He soon realizes that the children are to be executed. He puts on a brave face and entertains them all the way to the gas chamber. Filled with remorse, he agrees to enter the gas chamber with them where he dies.
The script is available online
. Some of the cast members and some of the very few people who have seen the rough cut of the film (including Harry Shearer
) were interviewed for a Spy
magazine article which is available here
. Some behind-the-scenes footage
from a Dutch program has also found its way online.
Has the examples of:
- Children Are Innocent: Doork finds redemption in the laughter and joy of children.
- Downer Ending: It's about a clown entertaining children as they're led into the gas chambers. How do you think it's gonna end?
- Final Solution: It is set in a concentraton camp.
- Gallows Humor
- Historical Villain Downgrade: Certainly the Nazis didn't bother with using clowns to lure children into gas chambers. Guns and attack dogs were sufficient.
- Though YMMV on this, as using the children's innocence against them is arguably more sinister than being brutal beforehand.
- Oscar Bait: Why Lewis made the film.
- Redemption Equals Death: Seems to be the focal point of the climax.
- Sad Clown: Doork is depressed even before getting arrested.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Doork gets drunk and does a impromptu routine based on this. It lands him in prison.