Great News! The Most Notorious Unreleased Film of All Time May Have Gotten a Release Date

Bad news: It's ten years from now.

by Mike Pearl
07 August 2015, 5:22am

Frame from the only known footage of The Day the Clown Cried via YouTube user Unclesporkums

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Jerry Lewis, the mid-century comedic actor who supposedly used to say "Froinlaven!" and "Nice lady!" keeps the only copy of his bizarre 1972 holocaust movie, The Day the Clown Cried in a vault, and away from possible viewers, because of its reputation for being the shittiest movie of all time. But the government has reached into Lewis' vault, and pried out The Day the Clown Cried. Now, anyone who plans to stay alive for ten more years just might have a shot at actually seeing it.

The Los Angeles Times broke the news in a piece about the Library of Congress' Packard Center, which curates Congress' collection of culturally important motion pictures. The Jerry Lewis collection is apparently culturally important enough to become a new acquisition. The trouble is, there's a ten-year embargo, meaning you'll have to wait until 2025 before the safe has a shot at being unlocked.

If it were screened, we know basically what we would see, because the screenplay, which includes original material by Lewis, is available online. Give it a read if you like your sadness laid on thick and heavy.

Not sure if I need a spoiler warning here, but SPOILER ALERT: In the script, Lewis' character, Helmut, a clown known for his juggling routine, is tasked with pacifying children with his antics as they're being led to their deaths at Auschwitz. In the film's final moments, he's surprised to find himself locked in the gas chamber with some of the kids. He nearly panics, but then he starts juggling and laughing, and all the kids laugh too, presumably as the gas starts leaking into the chamber. The end.

But much like the film, this story may have a bleak ending. There might be further obstacles blocking it from being screened.

According to film professor and cultural historian Shawn Levy, the trouble is that the producer of the film optioned the rights to the screenplay, and then let them lapse without notifying Jerry Lewis. When the screenwriters saw the film they were so unimpressed with it, they told Lewis he would never actually get the rights.

So a public screening might still never be possible until the screenplay passes into the public domain, or the screenwriter has a change of heart.

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Jerry Lewis
lost movies
lost films
movies that disappeared
The Day the Clown Cried