Jerry Lewis, who passed away last weekend at the age of 91, was one of those famous people whose career was so long and varied that he was uniquely famous for close to a dozen different things. There was his comedy, his stage work, his long-time partnership with Dean Martin, his long resume of significant films that he directed, his iconic status in France, his annual hosting of the Labor Day Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy charities and latter-day media appearances as an ornery curmudgeon.

However, there was one, particularly notorious episode in Jerry Lewis’ decades-long career: His direction of the infamous 1972 Holocaust film The Day the Clown Cried, which remains perhaps the most notorious unreleased movie in Hollywood history.

Lewis wrote, directed and starred in The Day the Clown Cried, the fictional story of a washed-up circus clown imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. The character agrees to perform for Jewish children, and is later used by the Nazis to essentially usher Jewish children into the gas chambers.

The Day the Clown Cried has often been described as a wild miscalculation, a masterpiece of bad taste and a vain, failed attempt at Oscar bait by Lewis who, in his decades-long career, never won an Academy Award until he was given a Humanitarian award by the Academy in 2009. Lewis had long vowed that he would never allow the release of The Day the Clown Cried. So now that the Hollywood legend has died, will that change? That’s a very complicated question, but most signs point to “no.”

Since the film’s screenplay has surfaced, actor Patton Oswalt once hosted a staged reading of said screenplay, and a YouTuber named Uncle Spokurns posted his own staging of the script in 2014:

So will we ever see The Day the Clown Cried? You probably shouldn’t expect it to pop up at your local multiplex, or art house, any time soon. And it doesn’t appear that Lewis’ death will have any immediate effect on the film’s status, one way or the other.

Lewis donated a print of his cut of the film to the Library of Congress in 2015, with the condition that it not be screened for at least ten years, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. Even then, it’s unclear who, exactly, owns the rights to the film, nor is it a given that the Library of Congress would choose to screen it at the time, or even have the rights to do so. Joan O’Brien, the writer with whom Lewis tangled all those years ago, died in 2004, and it’s unclear if there are any copies of the film in existence besides Lewis’ print.

Could the film leak illegally somehow? It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but if there’s only one existing analog print, I wouldn’t count on the likelihood of that happening, either.

Lewis, in turns out, had addressed this very subject, with Entertainment Weekly in 2013:

“Who am I preserving it for? No one’s ever gonna see it… But the preservation that I believe is that, when I die, I’m in total control of the material now. Nobody can touch it. 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.”

What, exactly, is the “legalese” to which he refers? Perhaps only Jerry Lewis’ lawyer knows.

The Day the Clown Cried’s limbo has lasted through five decades, including various seismic changes in cultural trends, political trends, technological changes in terms of film distribution, and changes in definitions of what does and does not qualify as “offensive.”

Should there be any move to release or otherwise show the film, whoever makes the decision will have to weigh the value of cinematic scholarship and preservation against that of a deceased artist’s explicit wishes. But if Lewis put specific legal safeguards in place, it’s unlikely that The Day the Clown Cried will ever resurface.