The Day the Clown Cried (1972)

| Drama
A circus clown is imprisoned by the Nazis and goes with Jewish children to their deaths.


Jerry Lewis


Jerry Lewis (screenplay), Joan O'Brien (story) | 1 more credit »




Credited cast:
Jerry Lewis ... Helmut Doork
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Peter Ahlm Peter Ahlm ... 1st New Prisoner
Lars Amble ... Guard
Harriet Andersson ... Ada Doork
Jonas Bergström ... Franz
Carl Billquist ... Gestapo Officer #2
Claude Bolling ... Circus Band Conductor
Tomas Bolme ... Adolf
Curt Broberg Curt Broberg ... Galt
Bo Brundin ... Ludwig
Johnny Cacao Johnny Cacao
Anton Diffring ... Captain Curt Runkel
Nils Eklund ... Bartender
Victor Fratellini Victor Fratellini
Serge Gainsbourg


Helmut Doork, a once great and famous clown, is fired from the circus. Getting drunk at a local bar, he pokes fun at Hitler in front of some Gestapo agents, who arrest and send him to a prison camp. Helmut angers his fellow prisoners by refusing to perform for them, wanting to preserve his legend. As times passes, Jews are brought into the camp, with fraternizing between them and the other prisoners strictly prohibited. Eventually, Helmut is forced by the others to perform or be beaten. His act bombs and he leaves the barracks depressed, trying the routine out again alone in the prison yard. He hears laughter and sees a group of Jewish children watching him through a fence. Happy to be appreciated again, he makes a makeshift clown suit and begins to regularly perform. His audience grows, but a new prison Commandant orders Helmut to stop. When he refuses and continues to perform, he's beaten and thrown in solitary confinement. But the Nazis soon come up with a use for Helmut, keeping ... Written by Jonathan D. H. Parshall <>

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Filming Locations:

Sweden See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

2.20 : 1
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Did You Know?


Peter Berneis worked on an earlier draft of the script. See more »


Referenced in The Cinema Snob: Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

Not as Bad as It Sounds
5 September 2005 | by gasfartySee all my reviews

The Holocaust is a political hot button, and the notion of making any film with both dramatic and comedic elements about it is likely to make people recoil. Yet, "Life is Beautiful" and other films have pulled it off.

Having read the script for "The Day the Clown Cried," I can say it's doable, but the concept would fly over most people's heads. With very little action, it is a deeply introspective script, one which relies on the audience being able to identify with what's going on inside a fatally flawed character rather than the external story. American audiences, in particular, have a difficult time getting beyond the most shallow of understandings of people, preferring action over character development in films, so I don't think it would work here. It would turn on the skill of the performances to bring the nuances of internal characterization to life.

I think I understand what Jerry Lewis was trying to do -- he wanted to show the pain and darkness that underlies the character of comedic entertainers, and yet show that beneath their egos, there is heart, and that in their lives, there is great irony. He's been doing that for 40 years on his telethon, after all. But though I think the performers were eminently more qualified to act in 1972 than those today, the looser style of today's film-making would allow for a more successful film now than then.

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