Jerry Lewis, noted telethon presenter and your grandmother’s favorite comedian from the 1950s, formerly kept the only copy of his notoriously bad movie, The Day the Clown Cried, sealed away in a vault for virtually nobody to see. But it looks like he had a change of heart as Lewis just donated all of his life’s work, including the 43-year-old Clown, to the Library of Congress for preservation.
Why didn’t Lewis want anyone to sit down and pay money to see his comedic labor of love, you ask? Well, he didn’t want people to see it because it’s a comedy about a Jewish circus performer forced by the Nazis to lead children into concentration camp gas chambers. Lewis, however, has gone on record saying the subject matter isn’t the problem, but rather the production and financial woes.
“I think about this a lot. If I could pull certain specific elements from the project, and give me these three or four elements that I can do what I want with, if I hired Lincoln Center one night, for a specific audience, and give me one week shooting to let me shoot a beginning to that, a beginning to that, and a beginning to that and let me show that…. Whoooo-weeeee! It would be fucking wonderful to think about,” he told Los Angeles’ The Cinefamily in 2013. Later he added, “It’s either better than Citizen Kane or the worst piece of shit that anyone ever loaded on the projector.”
Among the lucky/unlucky few that have seen this cinematic abortion is Simpsons actor Harry Shearer, who once said, “This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos, its comedy, are so wildly displaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it is. ‘Oh my God!’ That’s all you can say.”
But before everybody rushes down to Washington D.C. to get a peek at the most legendary piece of cinematic trash never to be released publicly, there’s a minor caveat. Lewis donated the work to the LoC with the explicit instructions not to screen the movie in public for ten years. If you can’t wait that long, the script is also available online for your infinite jeers.
It’s kind of a bummer, but it means two equally bizarre things. One: Lewis is ostensibly resigned to being dead in 10 years, and two: we only have to wait a decade more to see the best worst movie ever.
But the bad part about cinematic trainwrecks like The Day the Clown Cried is that however bad they may actually be, they can never live up to just how mind-blowingly awful they are in our minds. Once we finally get a look at it, we’ll just move on to the next horror story. But then again, maybe it’ll be such a pinnacle of badness that it will be The Room before there even was The Room.
See everyone in 2025.