Jerry Lewis' Legendarily Awful Holocaust Clown Movie Will Finally Get Unveiled... In a Decade

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  • Jerry Lewis
    Jerry Lewis
    American comedian, actor, film producer, writer and film director
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Forget the new Star Wars sequel — there’s a new titleholder for the most anticipated upcoming release in ages. But alas, it’s going to take another decade until we’ll get to see Jerry Lewis’ long-buried, almost-mythical Holocaust drama The Day the Clown Dies, which was filmed in 1972, and was recently donated to the Library of Congress as part of a larger collection. The catch? The Library has agreed not to actually show the film for at least another ten years.

Clown is the story of a German clown named Helmut Doork, who’s tasked with entertaining young Jewish children as he leads them to the gas chamber. The movie has never been seen by the public — partly because Lewis, its director and star, never actually finished it, and partly because it was so bad.

Lewis never allowed the footage he had kept on a videotape to be screened, though at least a few people have seen the film: In a now-legendary 1992 article in Spy magazine story, writer-actor Harry Shearer — best known for his work in This is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons — revealed that he’d seen Clown, and confirmed it was beyond imagination. “This was a perfect object,” he told the 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.”

For decades, Clown has been a sought-after mystery object by film fans: Its script is widely available online, and in the late ‘90s, comedian Patton Oswalt attempted a live reading of the screenplay (it did not go as planned). Still, no footage of the movie ever made its way to the public until a few years ago, when a few minutes of Clown — which producers had been keeping locked up in Switzerland — were uncovered and uploaded to YouTube.

Lewis has been more willing to talk about the film and his original intentions in recent years; he granted an interview about it to Entertainment Weekly in 2013, and the year before, he told a film festival audience that “I was ashamed of the work and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anybody see it. It was bad, bad, bad.” In a decade, maybe we’ll all get a chance to see just how bad it really was.

If your interest is piqued, and you want to get a head start on prepping for its in-a-decade release, check out some rare footage of The Day The Clown Cried film below: