Schindler’s List, clearly, is the most famous film about the Holocaust. The strangest is almost forgotten today — Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried.
A Holocaust drama by the auteur of The Nutty Professor? Remarkably, yes. Filmed mostly in Stockholm in 1972, the film stars Lewis, who also directed, as a circus clown imprisoned for satirizing Hitler. After finding himself in a boxcar taking a group of children from a prison camp to Auschwitz, he’s forced to distract the terrified youngsters on their way to the gas chambers.
The film will probably never be released — at least in its entirety. After a dispute over financing between Lewis and the French producer, Nathan Wachsberger, most of the film was seized by the studio, Europa Films. However, Lewis has assembled a rough cut on video and shown portions of it privately. Some of those few who have seen it suggest it’s the Heaven’s Gate of the Holocaust, with Lewis, despite all efforts and an affecting script, essentially doing his shtick.
At last some of this strange Day may see the light: A French documentary producer has gathered and wants to use several minutes of footage from the movie. Meanwhile, U.S. producer Michael Barclay and distributor August Entertainment, who own the rights to the original 1961 script, say they’re ”on the verge” of producing it without Lewis. August president Gregory Cascante has talked to William Hurt about the role of the clown. ”When I read this script, I was crying like a baby,” Cascante says. ”It’s about the importance of children and a superficial man who finds his soul because of them.”