Jerry Lewis' The Day The Clown Cried is perhaps the most precious of all of Hollywood's Golden Turkeys. In the film, Lewis plays circus clown Helmut Doork, who befriends and entertains the child prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp and ultimately leads them, pied-piper like, into the ovens. It's a Nazi feel-good movie. Jerry Lewis now keeps his copy of the rough cut locked in his office in a briefcase.
Not only was it never released, only eight people have ever seen it, securing its legendary status. (One of the eight, Harry Shearer, said of it: "This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.")
What hasn't been known is that long before he purchased Washington, DC, Jack Abramoff turned his financial acumen to bringing The Day The Clown Cried to a larger audience. This was to have been his own bid for Hollywood respectability, following the 1989 Dolph Lundgren movie Red Scorpion, which Abramoff wrote and produced.
Listener/Reader Lawrence reports on his Looker blog that Abramoff tried to finance a remake of the film with Michael Barclay's Rainbow Ridge Films. At various stages, the remake was to star Robin Williams or William Hurt taking on the role of Helmut Doork:
In 1991 producers Tex Rudloff and Michael Barclay announced they would make a version of The Day the Clown Cried in the Soviet Union as a joint production with the Russian company Lenfilm. Again, no film resulted. The following year, yet another plan called for Robin Williams to star and Jeremy Kagan (who'd recently made The Chosen) to direct. Yet again, nothing more was heard of the project. In 1994 Barclay was talking about a William Hurt version. But it seemed no likelier than any of his previous efforts.
Alas, no video of The Day The Clown Cried is floating around the web. All I could find is this disappointing footage from the set: [download video, 4 megs, mpg format]. On the old WFMU show The Midnight Matinee, John Schnall made a radio version of the movie which can be listed to as a streaming realaudio file here. Subterranean Cinema has a good page on the film with lots of links and original scripts here. And Jack Abramoff? When he gets out of jail, he'll still have a few million dollars left to make the indie version of The Day The Clown Cried, starring Vincent Gallo. Thanks Lawrence!