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Jerry Lewis' Take On Lost 'Clown' Film

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Some mysteries just get juicier with age. At least, that’s how it felt on Aug. 10, when a seven-minute clip from an old Dutch TV documentary about the making of Jerry Lewis‘ 1972 ”lost” film, The Day the Clown Cried, was posted on YouTube by someone calling himself ”unclesporkums.” Like Orson Welles‘ uncut version of The Magnificent Ambersons, Lewis’ never-released movie has become a holy grail for movie buffs. Set during World War II, it stars Lewis (who also directed) as an imprisoned German clown named Helmut Doork who is forced to perform for concentration-camp-bound Jewish children and lead them to the gas chambers — all of this 26 years before Roberto Benigni‘s similarly themed Life Is Beautiful. Over the years, Lewis (now 87) has been cagey about why he’s never shown the film publicly. Was it because of tangled rights issues with the film’s producer? Was he embarrassed by how it turned out? He has mostly kept mum, although we recently unearthed our 2009 chat with Lewis about Clown, an addendum to an interview about his honorary Oscar. At first, he refused to discuss it. Then, after two hours, he admitted that while he’s proud of the unfinished film, he’s taken measures to ensure that it will never be released before or after his death (he says he has the only copy). When asked about all the speculation surrounding the film, he said, ”I think it’s like bad advertising. For it to become what it has become seems unfair — unfair to the project and unfair to my good intentions.” Clown‘s infamy has grown so large, he added, that it now has to be either ”better than Citizen Kane or the worst piece of s— that anyone ever loaded on the projector.” Still, Lewis seemed to relish being the keeper of one of Hollywood’s biggest mysteries. ”The more I hear about it, the more I enjoy it.”

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