August 21, 2017

"But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of the perfect object."

"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."

Said Harry Shearer, one of the few people who have actually seen the long-suppressed "The Day the Clown Cried." The movie, directed by Jerry Lewis, starred Jerry Lewis as a comedian who made fun of Hitler and got arrested and forced to entertain children in a Nazi death camp.
Lewis biographer Shawn Levy probably sums it up for many of us when he says the interest in Clown is the “the inconceivable oddness of it. Jerry Lewis is still such a strange and singular bird that I think the very concept is intriguing. And the people who’ve seen the film and spoken about it – Harry Shearer, say – are so vivid in their description that they’ve made it a holy grail. Plus, the fascination with grindhouse, Ed Wood, and movies so bad they’re good (a dubious category) virtually insures there’s a cult for something like this.”
Here's Jerry Lewis saying it will never be seen because it's bad and he's embarrassed by it and he's grateful he had the power to suppress it.



But he didn't destroy it, and in fact he donated it, along with other films, to the Smithsonian, and the instructions are simply that it not be shown until at least 2025. And Lewis once said:
“After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? The only thing that I do feel, that I always get a giggle out of, some smart, young guy is going to come up with an idea, and he’s going to run the fucking thing. I would love that. Because he’s going to see a hell of a movie!”
He's gone now, so maybe we will see it. I've expressed my opinion before (in 2013):
Even if it was in the end, a terrible idea — but wasn't it basically the idea in "Life Is Beautiful"? — can't we see it now, with the understanding that it was a mistake and extract the good and learn from the lesson about what badness is?
It ended with a notoriously cringe-inducing scene of cavorting clown Lewis leading the laughing kids into the gas chamber. Overcome by the grief of what he is being forced to do, he chooses to stay in the gas chamber with them as they are killed.
Let us see it. Of all the Nazi-related things to be ashamed of... maybe this excessive shame about bad art is shameful. Or is it the other way around... and more bad art should be destroyed before anyone can see it?

28 comments:

rhhardin said...

There's a holocaust joke book somewhere, but it's a refusal to go along with political trading on the holocaust.

Robert Cook said...

It's not the idea, but the execution. I never saw Life Is Beautiful, but apparently it executed the idea with taste and grace, two qualities largely absent from Lewis's work. (Not that "taste" and "grace" are always called for or to be wished for.)
Lewis could be counted on to execute his ideas in the most crass, broad, maudlin, overbearing, self-serving manner possible.

Big Mike said...

The real "Day the Clown Cried" was a circus fire that killed 167 people including a lot of kids. Famous sad clown Emmett Kelly was photographed in tear-streaked makeup trying to help extinguish the fire.

Bay Area Guy said...

A bit odd that Lewis didnt want folks to see it, but didn't destroy it.

I wasn't a big fan of Lewis. Just didn't see many of his movies, unlike the Marx Bros who I thought were the kings of comedy.

William said...

I remember the little girl in the red dress in Schindler's List. It's possible to depict the murder of children in a tasteful, artistic way. I would hate to see children murdered in a crass or maudlin way.

Laslo Spatula said...

Don't despair: there are still plenty of good Nazi films to see...

SEX, SADISM & SWASTIKAS: PSYCHO ‘70S NAZI SEXPLOITATION CINEMA CYCLE

"SS Girls is somewhat tame by comparison to other entries in this cycle, but makes the list due to Gabriele Carrara’s over-the-top performance as Hans, the Nazi Pope."

I am Laslo.

David Begley said...

I can see this movie being screened as part of a big MDA fundraiser. Lewis was a movie expert and knew it was bad. By tying the movie to a good cause, the badness will be forgiven.

traditionalguy said...
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traditionalguy said...

Adults failing to love and protect innocent children is a recurrent theme artists that go back deal and with it... David Copperfield, Huckleberry Finn, Seabiscuit, etc. There must be many others that never make it into art work. Lewis had a somewhat semi abandoned childhood. And I have known someone whose parents both died by age 7, and she spent several years with various aunt and uncles ending adopted, but they never got over a fear of abandonment.

And then there is abortion for convenience, and Peadophelia grooming by institutions run by and for evil men and women, and Hollywood.

Laslo Spatula said...

Now is a good time for a Nazi Romantic Comedy.

I am Laslo.

Anonymous said...

Howard Stern - Harry Shearer & The Day The Clown Cried

Said Harry Shearer, one of the few people who have actually seen the long-suppressed "The Day the Clown Cried."

I've heard a rumor that Bob Dylan has also seen the movie.

buwaya said...

It is indeed a good time for a Nazi romantic comedy.
A farce might be safer, but there is terrific scope for Romeo an Juliet now.
The current state of political hysteria is an ideal setup. You have all the Montagues and Capulets you could ever want.

buwaya said...

Of course, a tragic modern Nazi Romeo and Juliet would just be a vehicle for preachy partisanship. A comedy has much more room to maneuver.

exiledonmainstreet said...

"I remember the little girl in the red dress in Schindler's List. It's possible to depict the murder of children in a tasteful, artistic way"

You never actually see the girl in the red dress being murdered. You see her hiding under the bed and then in a later scene, Schlindler (and the audience) see her body and the red dress being carted away to be burned.

Paddy O said...

Good artists can recognize bad art, and a vision doesn't always turn out the way one hopes. It takes confidence to go ahead and admit failure.

I wish George Lucas had learned that lesson.

"the Marx Bros who I thought were the kings of comedy."

Totally agree. Groucho was a genuinely funny guy too.

tcrosse said...

It is indeed a good time for a Nazi romantic comedy.

The original 1942 "To Be Or Not To Be", with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. I believe it was suppressed until after Benny's death. Then it was remade in 1983 by Mel Brooks.

Big Mike said...

@Paddy, there's a story about Groucho. He was working in his yard in scruffy old clothes and a lady pulls up in an expensive car, gets out, calls him over, and demands to know what he charges for to do gardening.

"Oh the pay is not so good, but the lady of the house let's me sleep with her."

exiledonmainstreet said...

Big Mike said...
@Paddy, there's a story about Groucho. He was working in his yard in scruffy old clothes and a lady pulls up in an expensive car, gets out, calls him over, and demands to know what he charges for to do gardening.

"Oh the pay is not so good, but the lady of the house let's me sleep with her."

8/21/17, 10:07 AM

You can look up a clip on YouTube from Groucho's 1950's TV show. He was interviewing a woman who proudly told him that she had 19 children. Groucho said, "why so many?" and she said sheepishly "I love my husband."

Groucho said, "I love my cigar too, but I take it out of my mouth every now and then."

tcrosse said...

Groucho's TV show You Bet Your Life had a panel of writers off-camera scripting his witticisms for him. It was then smoothed out in the cutting room.

De Gustibus, and all that, but Jerry Lewis had questionable taste in film. So if he thought The Day the Clown Cried was awful, maybe it's really good.

Fernandinande said...
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exiledonmainstreet said...

tcrosse, I don't care if it was scripted. Groucho's delivery was perfect - and that was pretty daring for '50's TV.

Etienne said...

Bay Area Guy said...A bit odd that Lewis didn't want folks to see it, but didn't destroy it.

More important than being a bad movie, is that he never got the rights to show it. The whole movie was a lawyers nightmare.

In fact, Lewis should have never been allowed to take a rough-cut. The movie didn't belong to him, but he wanted to keep a copy since he invested a couple million in it, and had nothing to show for it.

Big Mike said...

@exiled, true that.

There's a coda to the story I mentioned above. A lawn care firm had parked its vehicles on the street in front of my house while they worked on the development's common area. Meanwhile I was out on my John Deere lawn tractor, wearing my scruffy John Deere hat, jeans, and a T-shirt that was coincidentally John Deere green. A woman came by pushing a stroller and stopped and was watching me work for the longest time. I thought about that Groucho story and I started thinking "Ask the question, lady, go ahead and ask the question."

Paddy O said...

tcrosse, not surprising, as that was and is a common part of shows. But that's not the only place he showed up, and the only times he was funny.

Here he is on the Dick Cavett show.

It's interesting to watch Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, where some comedians are really funny in person and some aren't. I bet Groucho would have been hilarious.

Mark said...

Better to preserve the mystery.

Go watch Oscar Gold instead.

SukieTawdry said...

I'm trying to think of a Jerry Lewis movie that shouldn't have been suppressed.

firstHat said...

I think, by the description of this film, it may have been based on the life of Kurt Gerron

Paul Snively said...

Once you start compromising your thoughts, you're a candidate for mediocrity. — Neil Simon, "Biloxi Blues"