Timmy always seemed to have a project going, but I guess that’s par for the course with creative personalities. I don’t recall the origins of The World’s Greatest Sinner. He wanted to combine religion and politics in a film and do something a little different about a self-made type of person who becomes a big celebrity. He had a production book. I wonder if it’s still around. It explains the plot in quite a lot of detail.
The World’s Greatest Sinner was 20 years ahead of its time. The religious aspect upset the studio heads. People who could have advanced the film were anxious, because they thought the public would condemn it as blasphemous, although I don’t think The World’s Greatest Sinner is irreligious, compared to films today. The character of Clarence Hilliard is redeemed in the end. And Timmy had such a shoestring budget to work with… that didn’t help.
Most of the film was shot in El Monte, California, where Timmy lived. One very amusing scene had Timmy standing on a pile of fertilizer as he was campaigning. He had a big guitar in his hand and he was running for office, talking to the crowds, making a political speech. And the camera pans down and we see that Timmy is standing on a great big pile of cow manure. (laughs) I thought that was a funny touch. That was very good!
I remember that day. Timmy was positioning all the people. They were just local people who were acting in the scene. Timmy had a few professional actors working on the picture with him, like the guy who played his campaign manager (James Farley) and Gil Barreto (who played Clarence’s disciple). I don’t think anybody other than Timmy had any significant credits, though. The World’s Greatest Sinner was all improvised. I don’t remember Timmy ever working from a script.
I went to a few screenings of The World’s Greatest Sinner. I saw the film in Manhattan. Timmy brought it to New York and showed it in several screening rooms, trying to get some film companies interested. But they were all turned off and scared by the religious aspect. But The World’s Greatest Sinner does conclude with a miracle, a church scene where Clarence Hilliard begs forgiveness. He has remorse for the type of person he was and seeks redemption. The problem was with the blasphemous stuff that came before. Not too many people could handle that. It was too ahead of its time.