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The Day the Clown Cried - Jerry Lewis (behind the scenes)
January 20, 2009
The Day the Clown cried is an unfinished and unreleased 1,972 film directed by and starring Jerry Lewis. It is based on a scriptment of the same name by Joan O'Brien, who had co-written the original script with Charles Denton 10 years prior. The film was met with controversy regarding its premise and content, which features a circus clown who is imprisoned in a Nazi camp. The Day the Clown Cried has become somewhat infamous among film historians and movie buffs for a film that has never officially been released.
Lewis plays a washed-up German circus clown named Helmut Dorque during the beginning of World War II and Holocaust. Although he was once a famous performer with the Ringling Brothers, Dorque is now past his prime and can't find a job. After getting demoted for causing an accidental mishap during one performance, he shares his problems with his wife, who advises him to stand up for himself. Before he can summon the courage to defend himself, he overhears the lead clown Gustav telling the ringmaster to fire Helmut, or else he will resign, to which the showman reluctantly agrees. Distraught, Helmut is arrested in a bar by the Gestapo for ranting about Germany and drunkenly mocking Adolf Hitler. After an interrogation at the Gestapo headquarters, he is imprisoned in a Nazi camp for political prisoners. For the next three to four years, he remains there while hoping for a trial and a chance to plead his case.
He tries to keep his bravado up among the other inmates by bragging about what a famous performer he once was. His only friend in prison is a good-hearted German named Johann Keltner, whose reason for being interned is never fully revealed but is implied to be his outspoken opposition to the Nazis. The others goad Dorque into performing for them, but he does not, realizing that he is, in fact, terrible. Frustrated, they beat him up and leave him in the courtyard to sulk about his predicament. Suddenly, he sees a group of Jewish children laughing at him from the other side of the camp, where the Jewish prisoners are being kept away from everyone else. Feeling delighted to be appreciated again, Helmut performs for them and gains quite an audience for a while, until the new prison commandant orders that he must be stopped.
After the SS guards break up his latest performance, they knock him out cold and start beating the children away from the barbed-wire fence. Horrified, Keltner fights off one of the guards, but he is quickly cornered and beaten to death. Dorque, meanwhile, is placed in solitary confinement. Seeing a use for him, the commandant assigns him to help load Jewish children on trains leading out of the internment camp with the promise of a review of his case. By a twist of fate, he ends up accidentally accompanying the children on a boxcar train to Auschwitz, and he is eventually used, in almost Pied Piper fashion, to help lead Jewish children to their deaths in the gas chamber.
Offered his freedom if he fulfills this request, Helmut reluctantly obliges to do so. Leading them to the "showers", he becomes increasingly dependent on a miracle, only to learn there is none. After all the children go into the chamber, he is so filled with remorse that he goes into the room himself to entertain them. As the children laugh at his antics, every one of them dies quietly of the effects of Zyklon B.