A new agreement between Jerry Lewis and the Library of Congress will finally allow curious film buffs to see The Day the Clown Cried, the comedian’s storied, never-seen film. Los Angeles Times reports that Lewis included the movie, which he has refused to release and kept guarded under lock and key for decades, in a collection he gave the institution. The 89-year-old actor and filmmaker’s stipulation, however, was that the film would not be shown for at least 10 years.
The movie, which was supposed to come out in 1972, was directed and co-written by Lewis and starred him as a German clown placed in a concentration camp at the beginning of World War II for mocking Hitler. The character attempts to resume his career by amusing underage prisoners; an SS guard eventually recruits him to lead the children to their deaths in a gas chamber.
Lewis never released the film, having long expressed regret for even making it. In 2009, he told Entertainment Weekly that he was keeping it safe and that no one would ever see it. “Nobody can touch it,” he said at the time. “After I’m gone, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I have the legalese necessary to keep it where it is. So I’m pretty sure that it won’t be seen.”
When the magazine asked whether Jews would like the film or hate it, Lewis said they’d love it because of the research he’d put into it. He also said that he could not remember the last time he’d seen the film but that only he, his manager and his father had seen it that he knew of. He also said he felt “guilt-ridden” about the project and that he was not defending it.
“There’s a gurgling inside that I get when I think about, would this make certain that the Holocaust would never happen again?” he said. “It’s too small a piece. It isn’t large enough to make a dynamic impact.”
Comedian Harry Shearer once claimed to have finagled the opportunity to see a print of the film in 1979. “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,” he once said, according to the book Cult Movies in Sixty Seconds. “‘Oh my, God!’ — that’s all you can say.”
Despite Lewis keeping the film under wraps, making-of footage of the film has leaked online. Watch it below via IndieWire.