Jerry Lewis has announced his return with his first leading role in over 25 years in the upcoming independent drama "Max Rose”.
The Film is set to go into production sometime this fall with Daniel Noah in the director’s chair.
“We’re going to show an old man who is driven by love and optimism, and by his love for his young daughter.” Lewis told Variety.
I’m glad to see Jerry Lewis is finally coming out of his acting retirement. Apart from lending his voice to a sequel of The Nutty Professor (2008) and Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey, his last actual appearance was in the film ‘Miss CastAway’ (2004).
Over the years he accepted and then dropped a number of movie projects, most recently the spook-spoof ‘Horrorween’. But at his lectures, fans and movie buffs alike still seem to be more interested in his past, and in particular in the one film Lewis refuses to talk about: 1972’s controversial Holocaust epic ‘The Day the Clown Cried’.
The film has achieved cult status over the years and is already regarded as part of movie history among cine lovers and historians, who often consider it to be one of the most important films in Lewis’ career, despite the fact that the film has never been released.
The film, based on Joan O’Brien’s now classic novel of the same name, has Jerry Lewis both starring and directing next to a fine cast including Bergman protégé, Harriet Andersson in the role as his wife. It tells the story of Helmut Door, a depressed circus clown at the end of his career. In the book Helmut is portrayed as an arrogant and selfish person, who after being arrested by the Gestapo for mocking Adolf Hitler at a drunken street performance, ratted out on nearly everyone he knew to save his life. While locked up in a Nazi camp for political prisoners, he tries to escape the torture and humiliation of the guards by bragging to them and inmates, what a famous and wonderful clown he once was. They ask him to perform and he finally agrees. It doesn’t go like planned and the guards beat him up for his terribly bad performance. Pushed into the mud and left alone bruised, he realizes that a group of Jewish children from the opposite side of the camp were watching him and laughing. Delighted to have found a new audience, he starts to perform for them on a daily basis until the guards order him to stop. But Helmut is vain, and as his audience grows he trades in a portion of his food to a fellow inmate in return for a coat and bigger shoes. Yet again he is caught doing his act, and after a repeated beating he is sent as his punishment to accompany the children on a train to Auschwitz.
To big criticism from the author, Lewis gave Helmut a softer touch, making him a man on a journey to redeem himself and his past actions.
O’Brien co-wrote the first draft of the script herself together with Charles Denton but pulled out, denying Lewis the rights to her book because she hated the new changes that were made, but filming began in Stockholm as scheduled. Producer Nat Wachsberger ran out of money to complete the film and it has been tied up in legal confusion ever since. Lewis continued shooting the film out of his own budget but never finished it. A rough cut of the film on videotape in Lewis’ house is the only existing copy. The location of the film negative is unknown.
Lewis has stated myriad reasons for not releasing the film, from all of the legal issues to the fact that he is not satisfied with the overall product. For a short time he toyed with the idea to re-shoot some scenes and to release the film after all, telling an interviewer “One way or another, I’ll get it done. The picture must be seen, and if by no one else, at least by every kid in the world who’s only heard there was such a thing as the Holocaust.”
But as time passes it seems Lewis has given up on the movie and none of us will ever see the film that will now remain in limbo forever. No footage or scenes have ever leaked and only a handful of close friends have actually seen the rough cut, including actor and comedian Harry Shearer who told Lewis that the film was ‘terrible’. When asked to talk about the movie in Spy magazine he stated, “If you flew down to Tijuana and suddenly saw a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz you’d just think : “My God, wait a minute! It’s not funny, and it’s not good, and somebody’s trying too hard in the wrong direction to convey this strongly-held feeling.”
There have been a number of films on the Holocaust, but not even ’Schindler’s List’ has provoked such mixed feelings and criticism for it’s context as ‘The Day the Clown Cried’.
According to sources about various drafts of the script that have made their way to the internet, the film ends with Helmut making a deal with the Nazis to gain his freedom if he lures all the children into the gas chamber. Helmut agrees. Waiting for a miracle as he guides the children into the “shower”, he realises that no miracle could change their tragic fate—he takes a little girl’s hand and follows her and the other children inside the chamber. The door closes behind him as he performs for them a last time, making them laugh when the Zyklon B gas starts to fill the room.
Not really the happy ending people have learned to expect in our modern PC age, so in the past few years a completely new war has started against the never seen movie. Helmut’s actions and the message of the film are always in dispute.
Lewis stays clear of any accusations and refuses to give any further interviews or to answer any more questions about the making of his film or its message. Maybe Shearer is right and the movie is indeed terrible, and releasing it would only disappoint all the people who have been waiting 30 years to see it. So to all you folks who obsess about seeing the film, don’t put your hopes up to high, just think of it as a lost movie or a legend you only heard about.
© Salem Kapsaski
© Publication Scene4 Magazine