If The Day the Clown Cried was released as originally intended, it would have been relegated to obscurity. Many films are famous, but many are hardly as infamous as this. I think that, with the right publicity, this Jerry Lewis classic could be more profitable at the U.S. box office than Life is Beautiful was. My reasoning is simple: Jerry wasn’t intending to make a comedy, but a drama about a man who happened to be a clown. If Jerry is that intent on not having anyone see it, he should go about finding a way for a respectable film-maker to remake it. If it was bad, Jerry Lewis would have destroyed the rough cut. Hype is like interest in a bank (ask Bob Gale about the Stoltz cut of Back to the Future).
In the comment section of a video titled Notorious Jerry Lewis Holocaust film footage surfaces, I found two voices of reason:
There was nothing wrong with the script itself. I don’t know why some people want to say that this wasn’t a good idea, when films like Life is Beautiful had a similar premise. Jerry Lewis was in no way trying to make light of terrible event in time. He of all people would never do this since he’s Jewish himself.
“Lewis clearly thought enough of the opinions of those he showed it to, who all agreed it was a terrible movie. Under normal circumstances, a bad film typically just becomes a relic of its time and people quickly move on and forget. But by withholding it from public evaluation, he’s only creating this negative aura that likely goes beyond the film just being a tastelessly Holocaustic comedy.”
In the comment section of a video titled The Day the Clown Cried – Movie Talk, I found two other voices of reason:
“The film is based on a true event, and a real clown. I was there during filming and what I saw was strong, some scenes even brilliant. Many years later, I saw Schindler’s List, and I think The Day the Clown Cried could have the same tone. It does not have a happy ending, and I don’t remember any comic scenes. The only hint of comedy was a scene where Jerry performs for the kids in the camp. But it was more poignant than funny. He was magnificent in that scene.”
“I always theorized about what was going through his head when making this. I believe the movie was some form of dark commentary WAY more than it was a comedy. But Jerry Lewis being regarded as a “famous funny man”, having a career known for comedy, would actually have led people to see it at face value and not realize it was saying anything. I think THAT is why he is ashamed. I think he believes in the story he was telling, but didn’t believe it would be understood. BUT, this is the day and age of shows like South Park that uses many of the same methods of dark comedy, tackling horrific subject matter with a framework of comedy to get across disturbing or widely controversial, but well-intentioned viewpoints and moral stories. I think TODAY it could be done, but he is trapped in a mindset of the time in which the film was made, as well as his career, and has reversed his intentions with the current idea of – I shouldn’t have done this, never mind – Sadly. I mean when you look at it that way, comparing it to South Park, it makes the idea of The Day The Clown Cried a lot more palatable. Look at Eric Cartman, from South Park. He’s a callous, selfish, miserable, psychopathic, misogynistic, dangerously insane, bigoted racist who has no concept of the value of human life, but he’s an 8-year old so it’s funny, AND it creates the potential for all kinds of stories to be told with him.”
“This is incredible. If you haven’t read the script, find it online and READ IT. I was blown away. The story itself is incredible, creepy, awesome, just messed up. But I have a feeling that after Jerry (and the author, etc.) die, someone somewhere has this tucked away and will release it to the public. After the way Jerry has dramatized it and all, I wouldn’t be surprised if (even if it isn’t up to Jerry’s standard) the publicity he created will cause it to be one of the biggest things.”
“I looked this up again on Wikipedia again last night and I suspect money more than any other reason is why it wasn’t released. Cast members working on the film with Lewis reported his on-set personality as distracted, nervous and preoccupied with money. Film equipment was either lost or delivered late, and the necessary money was nowhere in sight. Lewis was repeatedly assured that money was forthcoming by Wachsberger, who did not appear at all on set.”
“Wachsberger not only ran out of money before completing the film, but his option to produce the film expired before filming began. He had paid O’Brien the initial $5,000 fee, but failed to send her the additional $50,000 due prior to production. Lewis eventually ended up paying production costs with his own money to finish shooting the film, but the parties involved in its production were never able to come to terms that would allow the film to be released.”
“After shooting wrapped, Lewis announced to the press that Wachsberger had failed to make good on his financial obligations or even commit to producing. This was probably a completely bad news project for Lewis. He ended up paying for out of his own pocket, probably everyone felt they were owed money, and Lewis didn’t want the legal hassle of fighting over the money if the film was released (probably involving courts in several countries). Especially with the dictator thing.”
By dictator, he means Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.