Timothy Carey had one of the most unusual careers of all Hollywood character actors, obtaining full cult status for his portrayals of the doomed, the psychotic and the plain crazy. Carey’s career was an “Only in America” type of story, and he retains his status as a Great American Original a decade after his death.
As a 22-year-old acting school graduate, he made his film debut in 1951 as a corpse in a Clark Gable western [Across the Wide Missouri (1951)], but it was his brief, uncredited part as Chino, a member of Lee Marvin‘s motorcycle gang The Beetles [actually, Marvin played Chino, not Tim] in The Wild One (1953) that made an impression and was a harbinger of the unsavory things to come. Prone to improvising, it was the fearless Carey who came up with the idea of squirting beer in Marlon Brando‘s face, even though the Great Method Actor himself had expressed reservations about what Carey was up to. He also registered that year [1955, actually] as the bordello bouncer who threatens James Dean in East of Eden (1955), making his face, if not his name (he was uncredited in both parts), known to the mass audience.
Carey followed this up with superb acting jobs in two Stanley Kubrick films, The Killing (1956) and Paths of Glory (1957). In the former he played the sociopath Nikki Arane [last name is actually Arano], who is contracted to shoot a race horse, which he does with great glee. In Paths of Glory Carey had an atypically sympathetic role as French soldier Pvt. Ferol, unjustly condemned to be shot to atone for the stupidities of his generals during World War I. However, it was in Bayou (1957) that Carey reached his apotheosis as an actor: as the psychotic Cajun Ulysses, he crafted an indelible performance that went beyond the acceptable limits of cinema scenery-chewing. He became Ulysses, on-screen, the mad Cajun who epitomized evil, his insanity perfectly encapsulated in the psychotic jig Carey danced to more fully limn his character’s madness. This classic exploitation film was re-cut and re-released as Poor White Trash (1961), and became a grindhouse Gone with the Wind (1939), playing to crowds until the 1970s (and becoming, retrospectively, one of the top-grossing films of 1957).