March 14, 2001
"THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED" REVEALED!
PERHAPS it sounded like a good
idea at the time - "The 'Nutty Professor' Does
Sometime around 1972, director, star, egomaniac
Jerry Lewis embarked on a most bizarre and
many would argue questionable film project. Not
since "Springtime for Hitler" would the
cinematic world be privileged to such a fun time
romp through Nazi Germany.
The film in question is, of course, the now
notorious and largely unseen "The Day the Clown
Cried," a film about, of all things, a
concentration camp clown whose job it is to lead
children into the ovens (as if clowns weren't
disturbing enough already). Since the film has only
ever been seen by a handful of people, one is left
to ponder - could it possibly be as bad as it
In short - the answer would seemingly be YES!
After years of searching for even the most scant
facts and information on this well buried film,
FILM THREAT recently managed
to procure a copy of the shooting script - some 164
pages of misguided, disturbing, egomaniacal and
just plain f*cked-up material that would have the
crowd at Nuremberg scratching their heads in utter
disbelief. Not only is it horribly written and
lacking in any humor (the script specifically notes
when things should be "played for laughs"), but
after about the first fifty pages what starts out
as merely a bad screenplay degenerates into a
deranged, unconscionable disaster that almost makes
you feel guilty for reading it... almost.
"The Day the Clown Cried" has been shrouded in
mystery for years - the stuff of legend. Was the
film ever even made? If so, is it really a comedy
about a clown leading children into ovens? Any hard
details regarding the film, even what it is
actually about, have been all but unobtainable.
That is, UNTIL NOW!
This comedic opus begins with a once great, now
down and out clown by the name of Helmut Doork
(played by Mr. Jerry Lewis) as he is fired from the
circus where he is not appreciated. After being
dropped, Doork heads to the local watering hole
where he attempts to drown his sorrows. After a few
pops, Doork begins to poke fun at Mr. Hitler, much
to the chagrin of the Gestapo agents sitting in the
bar. He is promptly arrested and sent off to a
The next 25 pages read something like a really
shitty version of "Stalag 17" as Helmut learns to
deal with the prison camp hierarchy. He fumbles
around like an idiot as the sadistic Nazi guard
taunts him all the while waiting for alleged
"release papers" that obviously will never come.
His fellow barracks-occupants are less than
endeared to him as he refuses to perform for them
or try to make them laugh. For some reason he views
his status as a clown as somehow being above
performing for these men (an unintentional
reflection, perhaps, of Lewis' notorious
arrogance). He is far more concerned about
preserving his legend as a great performer than he
is of appeasing these men.
After alienating himself from his fellow
prisoners, Helmut is disturbed to see Jewish men,
women and children being brought into the camp. The
loudspeaker announces "Fraternizing between Aryan
and non-Aryan prisoners is strictly prohibited." As
the men grow angrier at Helmut, he is forced to
perform for them under threat of physical violence.
His performance sucks and the men grow angrier with
him. "If he's Germany's greatest clown, God help
the Fatherland." Dejected, he exits the barracks
and tries out his act alone in the prison yard. He
hears laughter from the other side of the fence and
sees that a small gathering of children are
laughing at him. He takes some mud and makes an
impromptu clown face. He basks in the glory of the
As the weeks pass, Helmut's audience grows to
include some of the Jewish adults as well as some
of his fellow political prisoners. A new prison
Commandant arrives and is appalled that this clown
is allowed to carry on. He orders the performances
and any interaction with the Jews ended
immediately. "When you rule by fear, laughter is
the most frightening sound in the world."
For the days to follow the children stand
against the fence and stare disappointedly at
Helmut, unable to perform for them any longer. He
seems more bothered by the fact that he no longer
has an audience than the fact that the children are
now sad. He defies orders and begins to perform
once more. The SS men order him to stop. When he
continues, they viciously beat him in front of the
horrified children. Helmut escapes their grasp and
begins to clown around again. The children laugh
again but he is quickly subdued and thrown into
While Helmut is in solitary, the Nazis come upon
a uniquely Nazi dilemma - they have to get the
children to another camp, as they are no use in a
work camp. They have the children rounded up in a
boxcar awaiting the train that will take them away,
however the cries of the children are an annoyance.
Since they want to get rid of the children while
drawing as little attention to themselves as
possible, they decide to send Helmut to the boxcar
to keep the children quiet. In exchange for his
performance, they tell him that his appeal for
release will be reviewed. Helmut agrees to perform
for the children and does so, making them laugh and
convincing them that they are going to a "better
place." He is accidentally locked in with the
children when the train arrives and arrives with
the children the next day at Auschwitz.
The Commandant at Auschwitz explains to Helmut
what is done here - how the buildings without
windows are ovens used to exterminate the Jewish
children. He goes on to tell Helmut that as he has
lead the children this far and that he now has a
special bond with them, almost as if he is "one of
them," he should lead them for the remainder of
their journey. It is then, in the last ten pages of
the screenplay, that the true dementia of the film
truly takes hold. Helmut replies "No... no! I'm not
one of them. I'm not! I'm a German. A loyal German.
You can't kill me, I'm not one of them. I swear it.
I'm not." The Commandant explains that he doesn't
have to die, "I'm just asking you to lead them."
Helmut looks unwilling to comply. "Not... even to
save your own life?" Helmut gives in. "I'm glad to
see you're not a self-appointed martyr. Just think!
Now you're really one of us."
Want to find out how the script ends? Want to
see more exclusive pics from the movie? What to
know the true behind-the-scenes story of the making
of the film? Read part two of JERRY
LEWIS' "THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED"
Incriminating evidence? The script for "The Day
the Clown Cried." The script is difficult to find,
but can be had on the bootleg market.