Quote of the Week

“A bad actor is rich, unique, idiosyncratic, revealing of himself,” Jack Smith once wrote. Timothy Agoglia Carey (1929–1994), subject of a 10-day retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, was surely all of those things, but he was not exactly a bad actor—this Brooklyn-born, apparently self-taught Method man was more like a way of life.

A scary presence onscreen, Carey was an imposing palooka prone to upstaging fellow cast members by artfully flinging his body around the set. He had a shambling, sleepy-eyed stance and the grinning volatility of a barroom brawler, playing tough guys, lunatics, and chortling combinations of the two—although his career role was as a whimpering coward. As a performer, Carey was unafraid to make a spectacle of himself. His earliest claim to fame was as a member of Lee Marvin’s motorcycle gang in The Wild One (1953), spontaneously opening a beer bottle and surprising Marlon Brando, the grand master of on-camera improvisation, with a shower of suds.

However pissed, Brando did employ Carey again in his sole directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks (1961)—or maybe it was Stanley Kubrick, the project’s original director. Kubrick had used Carey twice before to tremendous effect—as the racetrack hit man in The Killing (1956), enthusiastically primed to assassinate a horse and, even more memorably, as one of the condemned soldiers in Paths of Glory (1957). Unfairly sentenced to death, Carey steals the movie with his smirky drawl, inappropriate giggles, cud-chewing line reading, and sobbing cri de coeur: “I don’t wanna die!!!!!!” This embodiment of pure, hysterical fear made Carey an underground hero and, seven years later, inspired Esquire to run his picture opposite John Wayne’s as a paradigm of the so-called New Sentimentality: “A minor character actor who manages to excite us in a personal way is a real celebrity.”

Carey’s subsequent movie career was spotty but choice—a sadistic Union sergeant in Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing (1967), a version of himself in Bob Rafelson’s Monkees musical Head (1968), and a fastidious, Marx-quoting mobster in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Anthology is showing these, as well as Carey’s two most alarming vehicles, the indie cheapster Bayou (1957), re-released five years later as Poor White Trash with an added rape scene (starring guess-who), and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a movie that Carey wrote, directed, and produced over a three-year period—while appearing in nearly every shot.

The high point of Poor White Trash is Carey’s Cajun love dance, knees knocking and mouth agape. This agonized mambo is reprised in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Carey’s bored insurance salesman becomes first a leather-lunged, immortality-promising street preacher, then a frantic rock-’n’-roller who bills himself as God, and, finally, dignified with a paste-on goatee and campaigning against death, the presidential candidate of the Eternal Man Party. Blasphemy aside, his sins include sex with female followers from 14 to 83, gratuitously smacking his little daughter and stabbing a sacramental wafer to see if it bleeds.

Fabulously scored by then unknown 20-year-old Frank Zappa, The World’s Greatest Sinner is far from incompetent filmmaking—it’s as idiotic, crafty, and unpredictable as Carey’s performance. Placing his satire at the intersection of politics, celebrity, and the media, Sinner is thematically the missing link between A Face in the Crowd and Wild in the Streets. It’s also a skid-row psychodrama to double-bill with Ed Wood’s plea for transvestite acceptance Glen or Glenda or Spencer Williams’s stark morality play The Blood of Jesus. Perhaps someday, someone will do Clint Eastwood a favor and show Sinner with Hereafter.

Video of the Week: Los Angeles, The City in Cinema: The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes, 1978)

Our video this week is a thoughtful analysis by essayist Colin Marshall of John CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978 director’s cut) as it relates to the city of Los Angeles itself. Timothy is briefly glimpsed in the restaurant scene in which Mort (Seymour Cassel) delivers the bad news.

As Marshall writes, “The action of John Cassavetes’ grotesque 1970s Los Angeles gangster movie takes place not in the margins of the city, but in a city made up of nothing but margins: mediocre eateries, empty gas stations, parking garages, and the strip club owned by its businessman-turned-hitman protagonist. Tasked with finding and killing the titular ‘Chinese bookie’ in this vast, taste-orthogonal void, he must set and stick for dear life to his own set of standards, no matter how garish or delusional they appear.”

Quote of the Week

Although some directors consider Carey “hard to work with” his talents have been used in devious ways many times. He’ll do an incredible screen test, they tell him “thanks but no thanks” and have another actor study his performance and copy it for the actual film! 

Timothy’s son, Romeo Carey, directed him in a 1988 short called THE DEVIL’S GAS. In ’89, Timothy, (along with Johnny Legend), was a guest on the L.A. public access program, Little Art’s Poker Party. He acted out scenes from some of his films, sang “Jambalaya,” talked about Dali and making wind and said, “The combustible engine has got to go. It’s like glorifying arsenic.” 

– Psychotronic Video magazine #6, Summer 1990; interview by Michael Murphy and Johnny Legend, research by Michael J. Weldon

The Devil's Gas

Pic of the Day: “The Boy and the Pirates” revisited

I decided we needed some pirate Timothy today, so here he is once again from Bert I. Gordon‘s The Boy and the Pirates (1960). Morgan, that scurvy dog, is relishing the prospect of committing some mayhem upon young Jimmy (Charles Herbert).

The Boy and the Pirates

In a 2006 interview with Classic Images, Herbert mentioned that Tim scared the bejabbers out of him during the making of Pirates. When asked to elaborate, he said, “It was just his eyes—those eyes! He’d look at me and I would run behind my mother. And I had to catch up to her, because she was tryin’ to find somebody else to hide behind [laughs]! His eyes, and the way he talked—all the time, he just seemed ANGRY, and out of control. But after a while, it didn’t bother me. He wasn’t somebody who was different off-screen—he was crazy on- AND off-screen.”

Video of the Week: “Across the Wide Missouri”

This week’s video provides a look – a really quick look – at Timothy’s first official film appearance. It’s Across the Wide Missouri (1951), directed by William Wellman. Fast-forward to 35:06 and you’ll see Tim’s grand film debut – as a corpse. But like I say, don’t blink or you’ll miss it!

Tim spoke several times in interviews about his escapades during the making of the film in Durango, Colorado, involving director Wellman and the film’s star, Clark Gable. This was also silent Western star Jack Holt‘s final film. Enjoy!

Pic of the Day: “Waterhole #3” promotional still

Today’s pic is my latest eBay find! It’s a publicity still for Waterhole #3 (1967), the rollicking Western comedy directed by William A. Graham. Paramount Pictures is more than happy to tell us that it features Roy Jenson, Harry Davis and Timothy, digging a tunnel in search of gold.

Waterhole #3

Davis was a familiar character actor who appeared mostly on television throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, with the occasional film role coming his way. One of the most memorable of these was in Elia Kazan‘s America America (1963). His wife, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, was one of the best of a handful of women writing and publishing hard-boiled crime fiction in the 1940s and ’50s (and beyond).

Quote of the Week

The second picture I did was for Allied Artists and was titled Unwed Mother, a very provocative title for the late fifties. It starred Timothy Carey, an actor who had scored in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory alongside Kirk Douglas. In our picture, Timothy played the role of an abortionist (also pretty frisky stuff for that time). When he arrived on the set to do his scene, dressed appropriately in a cheap dark suit, he opened his black medical bag and from it brought out some of the ugliest, vilest-looking knives, tools, hammers, and sundry stuff you’d likely see only in some triple-X horror movie. This bag had not been furnished by the prop department, nor was a bag of that kind mentioned in the script. It was all Timothy’s idea, and he had to be talked out of using it in his scene by the director [Walter Doniger], who threatened to have him fired and, if possible, kicked out of the Screen Actors Guild. He finally did acquiesce, and I heard very little about or from him since then.*

*Marisa’s note: I guess he forgot about the Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode he and Timothy did together.

Unwed Mother