?

Log in

No account? Create an account
EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!

> Recent Entries
> Archive
> Friends
> Profile
> FREE ICE CREAM

April 16th, 2004


Previous Entry Share Flag Next Entry
04:02 am - The Day the Clown Cried
"I had been 113 days on the picture, with only three hours of sleep a night ... I was exhausted, beaten. When I thought of doing that scene, I was paralyzed; I couldn't move. I stood there in my clown's costume, with the cameras ready. Suddenly the children were all around me, unasked, undirected, and they clung to my arms and legs, they looked up at me so trustingly. I felt love pouring out of me. I thought, 'This is what my whole life has been leading up to.' I thought what the clown thought. I forgot about trying to direct. I had the cameras turn and I began to walk, with the children clinging to me, singing, into the gas ovens. And the door closed behind us."
One of the greatest legends of Hollywood Failure is the unfinished, never-released Jerry Lewis magnum opus, "The Day the Clown Cried." The 1972 film would've featured Jerry "Awcmon Dean singus asong an' I'll clown thru it" Lewis as Helmut Doork, a German circus clown in WWII Deutschland who, after getting drunk and impersonating Hitler in front of a few critics disguised as SS Officers, gets thrown into a German prison, mistakenly sent to Auschwitz, and eventually is asked to clown for the little Jewish children as they march their way into the gas chamber.

Lewis had apparently decided, with or without the help of his painkillers, that this movie was going to be his greatest ever and even put up his own money to finish filming after the producer's funds ran dry. See, he was so moved by his first glance at the screenplay, apparently, that this is how he recounted the story in his overwrought 1982 autobiography:
"Why don't you try to get Sir Laurence Olivier? I mean, he doesn't find it too difficult to choke to death playing Hamlet. My bag is comedy, Mr. Wachsberger, and you're asking me if I'm prepared to deliver helpless kids into a gas chamber. Ho-ho. Some laugh -- how do I pull it off?"

He shrugged and sat back.

After a long moment of silence I picked up the script.

"What a horror ... It must be told."</i>
Oh how noble GLAAAVEN

Of course, Lewis shut down production after the aforementioned 113 days, exhausted and broke and beaten by the location shootings. He'd taken on the role of director, lost 40 pounds for the part of Helmut, and he sank into lawsuits involving the producer and the woman who wrote the original book. As a result of the litigation, the film was never finished or released. There was a rough cut made, though, and Lewis has a copy on videotape that he still keeps around. Harry Shearer apparently got to see it one time, and of his experiences he remarked "...the closest I can come to describing the effect is 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."

Well, now. If you haven't wanted to read the script before, I bet you want to now. And now you can. Oh, it's brilliantly awful. The dialogue is terrible, the Nazis are all one-dimensional stooges straight out of Central Casting, and the ending... well. You'll have to read it to believe it. And if you don't want to read it all the way through, just check out the cut. There's a lot to read behind it, but if you have a few minutes, you can marvel at the choice snippets here for you to read.

All good screenplays start with an epigraph that's not shown on-screen, right? Well, here we go:

I TOOK A CHILD BY THE HAND... 
TO LEAD HIM ON HIS WAY. 
I TOLD HIM OF THE LOVE OF GOD... 
AND TAUGHT HIM HOW TO PRAY. 
AND AS I SEARCHED FOR BETTER WAYS HIS GUIDE AND HELP TO BE... 
I FOUND, AS WE WALKED HAND IN HAND, THAT HE WAS LEADING ME. 
"THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED"
So it begins. Poor Helmut Doork (yes, that's his real name), pride of the Circus a long time ago, is nothing but a hopeless washed up loser now. He gets yelled at by his circus chums, so he gets a few drinks and goes to yell at his wife, and they both speak in ellipses...
            HELMUT
   If there is anything I don't need 
   right now... it's your super-
   sentimentality...

He flops down in the armchair and stares straight ahead... 
Again, Ada is hurt by his blasting her, but she's wise enough 
to know this isn't the man she loves... she has to get what's 
eating him out of there.

            ADA
   Helmut... what's tormenting your 
   soul?  Please let me help you... 
   talk to me...  I don't care what it 
   is... I love you...  I'm your 
   friend... you can trust me to 
   understand...

            HELMUT
   I can't trust anybody... I don't 
   know how to trust anybody...

            ADA
   I'm not anybody!  I'm your wife!

Helmut, hearing these words, looks up at her and sees the 
beauty in her eyes, and he is affected by this.  He stands 
up and takes her in his arms... almost breaking her in two.
Break her! Break her! Then we won't have to watch the rest!

But noooooooo, Helmut has to get even more drunk and make fun of Der Fuehrer right in front of some SS goons! (Check the "DIRECTOR'S MEMO", too, it's priceless.)
            HELMUT
       (gets an idea)
   I know why you're not laughing...  
   Because things you hear, you have to 
   think about... I'll show you something 
   that you'll laugh at because all 
   you'll have to do is watch...

DIRECTOR'S MEMO!!!    (INSERT CHAPLIN FOOTAGE)

Helmut goes over to the bar, where a little man is standing 
drinking his beer.  Alongside of the beer is a small plate 
with crackers and brown jam.  Helmut takes a comb out of his 
pocket, dips it in the man's glass of beer, combs his hair 
down over one eye, takes a finger full of the brown jam and 
makes a shicklegruber mustache from it... and turns on the 
four men yelling:

            HELMUT
   Ve vill conquer the world...  Heil 
   me!  Heil me!  Heil me!

He screams the last "Heil" and collapses on the floor.  The 
four men get up and proceed to pick him up and carry him out 
of the bar.  As they get to the doorway and exit we STAY 
on... Ada who has just arrived to see them pick him up and 
carry him away.  She is shocked.  We STAY on a CLOSEUP OF 
HER FACE showing the strain, pain and sadness as we:

                                             DISSOLVE TO:

INT. LT. REICHER'S OFFICE - OUTER OFFICE - BERLIN GESTAPO 
HEADQUARTERS - DAY
Oh no! I wonder what the interrogator will make of our clowny friend.
            REICHER
       (soft spoken)
   Are you Helmut Doork?

            HELMUT
       (nervously)

   Doork, yes sir, Helmut Doork!  I am 
   he!  Yes sir, that is correct, Doork!

            REICHER
   And are you a clown in the circus?

            HELMUT
       (ego setting in and 
       forgetting for a 
       moment his trouble 
       and danger)
   Not JUST A CLOWN!  I am Helmut Doork, 
   Premier Clown!  I've clowned for the 
   royal heads of many of our finest 
   countries, why there were times when 
   I had to...

            REICHER
       (breaking in)
   That was years ago... According to 
   these papers you are now just a helper 
   in the circus with little or no 
   importance!!

This stuns Helmut, his facade destroyed... His face drops 
along with his fear...

            HELMUT
       (meekly)
   Some things are only temporary...  
   Lt. Reicher!  Only yesterday, I had 
   calls from one of the great circus 
   owners in all of Europe... he...

            REICHER
       (breaking in, strong 
       and angry)
   You are NOTHING!!  You are a HAS 
   BEEN!!  You WERE A CLOWN...

            REICHER
       (continuing)
   You are now a prisoner of the State 
   and that's not funny... Can you make 
   something funny out of that, Clown?
Oh, them Nazis hate unimportance, and so unimportant Helmut goes to Useless German Prison, where he is force-fed by a big bad Nazi guard who gets to chew up and spit out great scenes like this:
            GUARD
   I'm surprised at you, Doork, you've 
   been here two years now, you should 
   have learned we, of the Third Reich, 
   never acknowledge the weak, sniveling, 
   begging of you swine...  that's all 
   you're good for... begging... 
   pleading... praying...  you're a 
   disgrace to the human race.  That's 
   why we of the superior race must do 
   away with all of you...

The guard turns to the other men at the table, and goes into 
one of his mentally unbalanced tirades...

            GUARD
   And we will!  We will!  Do away with 
   all of you.  You're worthless pigs... 
   with no courage, no guts, why if 
   anyone did to me what I just did to 
   Doork I would kill him!
       (turning to Helmut)
   Why don't you kill me, Doork?  Go 
   on...  kill me... kill me... take 
   the knife from the table and kill 
   me...

Helmut looks at the knife on the table, picks it up, holds 
it in stabbing style, thinks about it... and we know by his 
look, he would love to...

            HELMUT
       (with knife in hand)
   I would kill you... but I am getting 
   my release any day now... and I won't 
   do anything that would spoil my 
   chances...

Helmut digs the knife into the table top and buries his head 
in his hands... totally shook from the encounter...

            GUARD
   Your release?

He begins to laugh, but hysterically.

            GUARD
   Release?  They told me you were 
   funny...  but I never realized just 
   how funny you are...  RELEASE ????

And the hysterical laughter really echoes throughout the 
mess hall as the Guard makes his way towards the exit.
Get it? Because he is a CLOWN and he is FUNNY!!!

So anyway he hangs out at the camp, blah blah blah, he meets some other prisoners, who get to make some really bad jokes:
            UHLMANN
   I make love, not war!
       (goes giggly over 
       what he just said)
   Hey, that's pretty good... I made 
   that up... Make love, not war!  I 
   bet that would make a good slogan 
   someday...
 
            GALT
   Aw, shut up!
And eventually, one day, the Nazis ship a whole trainload o' Jews into the prison camp and separate things off, but not without some HoYay first for the slash fans in the audience:
            GALT
   Well, Reverend, what do you think?  
   Would a little belly-dancing be too 
   much for the boys?

Keltner studies Galt for a beat, then accepts his offer of a 
truce.

            KELTNER
       (moving over towards 
       Galt)
   A little fun is what we need... so...  
   if you'll all hold the noise down, 
   I'll join in.

A hushed cheer goes up from the men as Keltner stands besides 
Galt.  Galt holds his hands over his head and nods for Keltner 
to do the same thing.  The Reverend does, and now Galt begins 
undulating his hips.  Keltner studies the move for a beat 
and then does the same thing but with comical awkwardness.  
Franz starts playing a slow sensuous rhythm on his harmonica.  
The men clap and whistle softly.
And the new prisoners learn the Expository Legend of Helmut:
            4TH NEW PRISONER
   Say, why don't we get the clown to 
   do something?
            GALT
   A clown?  Who's a clown??

            HERMAN
   You've heard of "Helmut Doork".  
   That's him down there!

            LUDWIG
   Don't waste your time.  You'll never 
   get the Great Doork to do anything.
I SWEAR I CAN STOP LAUGHING AT THE "DOORK" JOKES ANY TIME I WANT TO.

And look, I can stop, cause here come de Jews:
On both sides of the fence, the prison inmates have assembled 
in the wet, forbidden yard.  On one side are the regular 
prisoners, who watch the guards warily as they straighten 
their lines.  On the other side are the new prisoners -- 
about two hundred frightened Jews of all ages, including 
thirty or forty children and a number of very old men and 
women.  They stand in absolute silence as the loudspeakers 
blare again, except for the crying children.

            LOUDSPEAKER
   Attention!  The Commandant issues 
   the following special order:  the 
   north side of the camp is now 
   temporary quarters for non-Aryan 
   prisoners.  Fraternizing between 
   Aryan and non-Aryan prisoners is 
   strictly prohibited.  Any violation 
   of this order will be severely 
   punished.  Heil Hitler... Repeating...

ANOTHER ANGLE

SHOOTING THROUGH the booted, outspread legs of a soldier 
guard in f.g. toward the line of prisoners behind him.  One 
woman holds a child of about three who cries inconsolably.

            LOUDSPEAKER
   The Commandant issues the following 
   special order:

As the announcement is read, the guard's legs turn around, 
and he walks away from the CAMERA toward the woman.  He stands 
before her menacingly, and she clutches the child closer to 
her in a futile attempt to hush its crying.

            LOUDSPEAKER
   The north side of the camp is now 
   temporary quarters for non-Aryan 
   prisoners.  Fraternizing between 
   Aryan and non-Aryan prisoners is...

MED. SHOT - PRISONERS

SHOOTING along line of prisoners from barracks H to show 
their various reactions as the announcement continues -- 
disdain, surprise, sympathy and relief.  The guard stands 
with his back to the line at the end farthest from the CAMERA.  
Galt is near the CAMERA.

            GALT
       (under his breath)
   Jews!
No, Galt, it's the Hat Brigade and YOU'RE INVITED!

God, it must be late. I have no idea what the hell that was supposed to mean.

Anyway, Helmut is coerced to perform in front of the other prisoners but fails miserably because he's so nervous, losing their respect entirely (hell, if they'd been watching the film, they'd have lost their respect ages ago...)
            MEN
   If he's Germany's greatest clown, 
   God help the Fatherland.  Doork, the 
   Great!  You got paid for that?  To 
   go without food is bad enough, but 
   to have to watch that!

            2ND NEW PRISONER
       (accusingly)
   You're not the clown I saw.  You 
   lied.  You're big all right.  A big 
   liar.

            4TH NEW PRISONER
       (contemptuously)
   And I was going to tell my kids!

            UHLMANN
   He's no clown.  Not even a bad one.

            HELMUT
   I am.  I am a clown!
Ring ring, Mr. Lewis, it's the Academy calling. They wanted to let you know you can keep the tuxedo in mothballs this year.

Helmut does see a passel o' Jewish kids on the other side of the separation fence, and starts to clown around for them and before you know it, they're laughing and pointing as children do when they see something funny. Because they can't acknowledge the existence of the funny without pointing it out to everyone exactly where it is. Anyway. The Nazis get wind of this and yell at Helmut and tell him he can't fraternize with the "non-Aryans" anymore, and he gets all sad. But then he's consoled with one of the best lines of the film:
            FRANZ
   What happened?

            HELMUT
       (still bewildered)
   He says I've got to stop -- with the 
   children.
            KELTNER
       (nodding)
   I've been expecting it.

            LUDWIG
   Because they're Jews?

            KELTNER
   Because of the laughing.

            HELMUT
   Why should that bother them?

            KELTNER
   When you rule by fear, laughter is 
   the most frightening sound in the 
   world.
(That, by the way, is pretty much the exact premise of Disney's ToonTown Online, believe it or not.)

Well, Helmut and the kids just can't stay away from each other, and when the Nazis realize they've got quite a kid surplus on their hands, they agree the best thing to do is ship 'em all out by boxcar to glorious Auschwitz, superstar vacation destination. But how to keep the kids quiet and happy on the train before it goes off in the morning? Why, putting the clown on the boxcar with 'em, of course, and so Helmut has a touching, heart-to-heart scene with all the scared little kids:
            HELMUT
   Now... what'll we do?

There is a long moment of silence, then the little blonde 
girl with the rag doll speaks up timidly.

            LITTLE GIRL
   I want to see my Mommy.

Helmut is brought up short.  For a beat he searches his brain 
frantically for an answer.  Then he goes to the child and 
kneels beside her.

            HELMUT
   You would?  All right.

            LITTLE GIRL
   You know where she is?

            HELMUT
   She's right here with you.

            LITTLE GIRL
   I don't see her.

            HELMUT
   That's because you don't know how to 
   look.  I'll show you.  Close your 
   eyes.
       (to the other children)
   All of you... close your eyes.

The little girl closes her eyes and one by one the other 
youngsters do also.  The Czech children look at each other, 
then at the other children, then they too close their eyes.

            HELMUT
   Everybody's eyes shut?  Now, think 
   about your mommys and Daddys... There, 
   don't you see them?  Can't you see 
   their faces?

The children, marvelling at this feat, ad lib expressions of 
assent.

            HELMUT
   So you see!  They're right here with 
   you.  All you have to do is look in 
   your hearts.

            LITTLE GIRL
       (putting her hand 
       over her heart)
   Does Mommy see me, Doork?

            HELMUT
       (deeply touched)
   Yes, she does.  She has you safe in 
   her heart, too.
Of course Helmut's supposed to get out of the boxcar before it's sent on its merry way, but what's this?! O cruel irony of ironies!
INT. BOXCAR - NEARLY DARK
Dim shafts of light from the two small square vent openings 
near the top on each side, gives the boxcar an eerie look.  
Helmut stops abruptly as he hears the slamming of the door.  
The children pile up behind him.

            HELMUT
   WAIT!

He moves quickly to the door and tugs at it.  Finding it 
locked, he pounds on it.

            HELMUT
   Open the door!  Let me out...  LET 
   ME OUT!

But the train NOISES drown his voice.  Then the boxcar 
suddenly lurches and starts to move forward.  Helmut's 
pounding weakens and stops.  He turns from the door, his 
face reflecting his fright.  The children, not quite 
understanding what has happened, gather around him, and pull 
on him.  He manages to control his fear, and looking at the 
children, he manages a big smile.

            HELMUT
   Guess I'm going with you after all.
Once there, he's given a welcome by the SS Captain in charge of Bad Ironic Foreshadowing:
            RUNKEL
   Have you any idea where you are?

Helmut shakes his head.

            RUNKEL
   Auschwitz.  This is Auschwitz.
       (a beat)
   Mean anything to you?
       (before Helmut can 
       answer)
   You may have observed we're enlarging 
   our facilities.

He moves over to the window and looks out, puffing slowly on 
his cigarette.

            RUNKEL
   Still a great deal of work to be 
   done.
       (proudly)
   It's going to be our most efficient, 
   most modern prison.
       (he turns and smiles)
   And, I might add, most unique.
DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

Honestly, I've seen Bazooka Joe comics that telegraphed less.

So where does this leave us? Runkel asks Helmut to "just lead" the children into the gas chamber, and, well, he has no other choice, does he? He's not supposed to die with them, just lead them in and see them off with a spring in their step and a merry hey-hey and good god the pathos is just gonna drip and the audience, bless 'em, will be in tears up to the nosebleed seats in the balcony, and Lewis will be hailed as the greatest dramatic clown-in-a-concentration camp -- at least, until Roberto Benigni comes along. Let's see how the end of the film plays out. This is going to be tough, I'm warning you ahead of time:
            CHILDREN
   What's the matter, Doork?  Where are 
   we going?  You come with us this 
   time.  Where're they taking us.

            HELMUT
       (trying to think what 
       to say)
   They... they want us to move to 
   another building... where we'll have 
   more room... to play.
       (a beat)
   Tell you what.  Let's make it a big 
   circus parade.  Everybody get in a 
   line behind...

He picks up Willie and stands him near the door.

            HELMUT
       (continuing)
   ... behind Willie here.

The children scramble up and begin forming a line behind the 
very proud Willie.  Helmut looks around for the boy with the 
harmonica.

            HELMUT
   Now, where's our band?  The harmonica?

He sees the boy and goes to him.  Helmut pantomimes playing 
the harmonica and points to himself.  The boy smiles widely, 
fishes the harmonica out of his pocket and holds it up.

            HELMUT
   There we are?  Everybody ready?  
   Here we go.

Helmut takes his place at the head of the line, like the 
Pied Piper, leads the youngsters out the door, playing a 
crude sort of circus parade music.  The little children giggle 
excitedly as they troupe out.  The older ones seem less 
certain, but as long as Helmut is with them, they feel secure.
And now, the very ending of the film, as the kids are marching into the chamber:
MED. SHOT - HELMUT, CHILDREN

SHOOTING over Helmut's shoulder down at the children as they 
file past him.  Each one hesitates a beat before him and 
looks up at him.

Their faces are wondering, but trusting.  They smile 
tentatively.  Only the little girl with the doll hangs back, 
waiting for something rather than fearful of entering.  When 
all of the other children have gone in, she goes up to Helmut 
and wordlessly holds out her hand in a silent request to 
enter with him.  In her eyes is the absolute certainty that 
he will.

CLOSE SHOT - HELMUT - LITTLE GIRL'S POV

He looks down at her hand for a long beat.

MED. SHOT - HELMUT, LITTLE GIRL

The little girl waits for Helmut, but he doesn't take her 
hand.  Shyly, she begins to withdraw it.  Suddenly, Helmut 
reaches out and grabs her hand, clutching it desperately as 
he needs her innocence to control the panic that is tearing 
at him.  Holding on to her to steady himself, they walk 
together into the room, the CAMERA PANNING with them.

                                                       CUT TO:
INT. CHAMBER - DAY

ANGLE to the door as Helmut and little girl enter.  Suddenly, 
the door slams shut behind them.  Helmut whirls to it 
instinctively, as if to shove it open or cry out for help, 
but he does neither.

CLOSE SHOT - HELMUT

His face is pressed against the steel door.  He fights the 
panic within him.  Then, he quickly wipes his eyes and turns 
back towards the children.  Slowly he takes three chunks of 
stale bread from his coat pocket and begins juggling them, 
at the same time waggling his head from side to side, slowly 
at first, then more gaily.  From deep inside him comes a 
tiny, tiny laugh.  The CAMERA PULLS BACK SLOWLY to reveal 
the children in the f.g.  Suddenly, Helmut tosses the pieces 
of bread high, high into the air and stretches out his arms 
to encompass all the children.  As they gather around him, 
they take up his soft laugh, timidly at first, then more 
assuredly until the chamber resounds with gentle laughter.

                                                       CUT TO:

IF ANOTHER MAN'S CHILD IS THREATENED AND YOU MOVE NOT TO 
PROTECT IT, THE CHILDREN OF ALL MEN ARE IN JEOPARDY AND YOU 
STAND AS GUILTY AS THOSE WHO THREATEN.

JOHN F. O'BRIEN

                                                     FADE OUT

THE END


Oh.
My.
God.

It's truly one of the greatest and most horrible trainwrecks I've ever read in screenplay form or any other.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:aussie_nyc
Date:April 16th, 2004 03:27 am (UTC)
(Link)
Please tell me you made this up.
[User Picture]
From:hemlock_martini
Date:April 16th, 2004 06:19 am (UTC)
(Link)
You have done me a great service by summarizing this, so I never have to actually read it. Bless you, sir Spatchums.
[User Picture]
From:pecosy
Date:April 16th, 2004 08:53 am (UTC)
(Link)
Hear Hear!
[User Picture]
From:zorndeslammes
Date:April 16th, 2004 07:29 am (UTC)

re:

(Link)
I heard about this film about a decade ago. I still hope that one day, after Jerry Lewis dies, this will see a DVD release. I can only imagine the extras.
[User Picture]
From:signsoflife
Date:April 16th, 2004 09:00 am (UTC)
(Link)
*speechless*

"I've read Bazooka Joe comics that telegraphed less".
[User Picture]
From:luckimunki
Date:April 16th, 2004 11:14 pm (UTC)
(Link)
The entire time I was reading this, I kept hearing it read in Paul Rugg's "Mr. Director" voice.


I miss Animaniacs.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:April 17th, 2004 07:54 am (UTC)
(Link)
THEY HAVE SAID FROINLAVEN.
GO IN WE SHOULD LET THEM.
[User Picture]
From:luckimunki
Date:April 17th, 2004 10:19 am (UTC)
(Link)
*chanting* Froinlaven... Froinlaven... Froinlaven...

> Go to Top
LiveJournal.com