Watch Long-Lost Footage From Jerry Lewis’s Infamous ‘The Day the Clown Cried’

Jerry Lewis in 'The Day the Clown Cried'
Jerry Lewis in 'The Day the Clown Cried'

Ready to get a first-ever look at what might be the worst movie ever made ... that hardly anyone's ever seen?

A somewhat notorious chapter in film history has come to the surface this week with the release of behind-the-scenes footage from "The Day the Clown Cried," the infamous 1972 Holocaust drama starring Jerry Lewis that's become something of a Holy Grail for comedy buffs.

"The Day the Clown Cried" stars Lewis as a World War II-era clown who gets in trouble with the Nazis after he publicly humiliates Hitler. He's forced to perform for Jewish children in concentration camps, as the Nazis figure that's the best way to get them to behave.

[Related: Jerry Lewis: I Can’t Watch Women Do Comedy]

Sounds like potential Oscar material, no? Unfortunately, the film was condemned for its bad taste, most notably due to the cringe-inducing climax in which the clown leads a group of laughing children to the gas chamber. Overcome with grief for what he's being forced to do, the clown decides to stay in the gas chamber and die with the kids.

Yeah, it's not quite "Life is Beautiful."

The film was never given a release, and Lewis himself has long been embarrassed by and ashamed of the film, vowing to keep it dead and buried. The passage of over 40 years seems to have done little to calm Lewis' strong feelings, as he seemed bound and determined more than ever to save us from the film earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival.

"It was all bad, and it was bad because I lost the magic," Lewis said, according to Entertainment Weekly. "You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work."

Harry Shearer, longtime voice of several "Simpsons" characters and part of the comedy band Spinal Tap, echoes Lewis's thoughts. After seeing a bootleg copy of the film, he said (according to a recent article in Variety), "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."

However, it would appear that infamous works of art can never stay hidden for too long, as footage from the film has emerged on YouTube. The 7-minute clip, posted by user unclesporkums, seems to be taken from a Dutch documentary on the making of the movie.

Watch Jerry Lewis in Newly-Surfaced Footage of 'The Day the Clown Cried':

We see Lewis, who also directed the film, behind the scenes as he decides what lens to use for a particular shot. We also see him in full makeup, performing a cigarette lighting trick with a candle that was certainly influenced by Charlie Chaplin.

It's also worth noting that the documentary features an appearance by French film star an musician Serge Gainsbourg and his girlfriend Jane Birkin (at around 2:07). It's long been speculated but never confirmed that Gainsbourg starred in the film (he was once added to the film's IMDb page, though he never listed it among his own credits before his death in 1991), though the footage gives the impression that he was perhaps just visiting the set.

Best to watch the clip while you can, as Jerry Lewis and his camp will probably attempt to get it removed. Until then, here's more material for Patton Oswalt's next staged reading of the "The Day the Clown Died" script.