Aside from Harry Shearer, who saw it at a private screening in 1979 and has said about the experience, “This movie is so drastically wrong…that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is,” almost no one has seen The Day The Clown Cried. But a lot of people have heard about the film, which stars Jerry Lewis as a clown who gets sent to a concentration camp after publicly mocking Hitler and is eventually tasked with leading children to the gas chambers, Pied Piper-style.
Every rumor about the film grows its legend: Patton Oswalt tells the story of doing a live read of the script in a tiny black-box theater, only to be served a cease and desist letter by an enraged producer. Tales of a remake—alternately starring Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, and Richard Burton—flew in Hollywood in the ’90s. All the while, director/writer/star Lewis has refused to release the film, calling it “embarrassing” and keeping it locked away in his personal vault for 36 years.
And if we’ve already been waiting 36 years, what’s another 10? IndieWire reports that Lewis recently donated a collection of prints from his personal collection to the Library of Congress, including the only known copy of The Day The Clown Cried. He did so under one condition: That the library agreed not to screen the film for 10 years after its donation. Lewis has said that he doesn’t want The Day The Clown Cried to get out until after his death, and, frankly, at 89, 10 years from now that may very well be the case. And who knows? Maybe 10 years from now, the world’s collective sense of humor will have warped so drastically that future generations will be moved by Lewis’ vision and hail the film as a masterpiece of post-irony. If anyone still knows who Jerry Lewis is, anyway.