Quote of the Week

“The World’s Greatest Sinner” and the Big Timothy Carey Question

Timothy Who? Timothy Agoglia Carey, sometimes Tim Carey, most of the time Timothy Carey. 1929-94. This character actor (dis)graced American screens for five decades, playing vile, despicable and loathsome scum of the earth, void of any redeeming quality.

What has he been in? You might be familiar with The Wild One (1953), East of Eden (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) to mention a few out of 50 something screen appearances – not counting television, which credits for about 50 more. Despite this sizable curriculum, he was quite possibly fired more often than any other actor in Hollywood, for example by Billy Wilder and Arthur Penn, and also quite willfully turned down parts in movies such as the first two Godfather films as well as Kubrick‘s Spartacus.

Why so vile, despicable etc? Well, he throws a beer in Brando‘s face, beats up James Dean, crushes a cockroach, pushes a girl into a bowl of chili, shoots a horse and verbally abuses a black man, all this in the most unspeakable of ways. And all this during the first ten years of his career…

If so vile etc – why is he worth watching? This 193 cm/6′ 4″ male specimen sported a pair of heavy-lidded eyes that matched Robert Mitchum’s, a set of clenched teeth that beat out Burt Lancaster’s, a dance routine that would have frightened James Brown and tantrums that outdid Harvey Keitel’s. This is partly why.

The World’s Greatest Sinner? A film he wrote, directed, produced and starred in, shot between 1958 and 1961, and released in 1963. He plays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who quits his job, changes his name from Clarence to God (he keeps Hilliard) and starts his own political/religious movement, promising to turn everyone into “millionaires, gods, super human beings!” He dons a silver lamé suit [NB: It was actually gold] and becomes a (very unlikely) rock ‘n’ roll idol, then runs for president of the United States as the candidate of The Eternal Man Party. The film is narrated by a snake and was promoted as “The most condemned and praised American movie of its Time”, but soon disappeared from the public eye. Among the few people who saw it were Frank Zappa, who wrote the film’s songs and called it the world’s worst film, and John Cassavetes, who said it had the emotional brilliance of Eisenstein. Among the people who didn’t see it was an indifferent Ingmar Bergman, despite the fact that Carey sent a friend to Sweden with a print earmarked for the director’s viewing pleasure, as well as a most enthusiastic Elvis Presley, on whom Carey did not want to waste a precious print, as he only had four left.

Carey and Vienna? Some almost five decades late, in November 1st, 2009, The World’s Greatest Sinner finally had its Austrian premiere. A packed audience at the legendary Gartenbaukino cinema in Vienna savoured the treat with awe. A tribute section devoted to selected Carey gems included Head (featuring pop group The Monkees and written by Jack Nicholson), Minnie and Moskowitz, Paths of Glory, Poor White Trash (a sordid exploitation story in which scary Carey is again seen doing a crazy dance), and another Carey directorial effort, Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, in which he plays a kind (!) member of a ladies knitting club who constantly roller-skates and wants to clothe naked animals. Along for the ride was Romeo Carey, one of four [NB: Actually six] of the actor’s children, providing insightful information on his father’s career (as well as being living proof of the fact that Carey, apart from being vile, despicable and loathsome, also was a family man) and guiding us through a highly unusual career (which also include a one-man stage performance on the topic of flatulence).

So is he just a cult guy? True, if Carey is in a film, even if it’s Francis the Talking Mule in the Haunted House, it’s worth seeing. Even in the smallest of parts, he manages to steal from the greatest of greats – some of them feeling surprisingly outdated these days, whereas Carey himself remains utterly watchable. In this respect, he comes across as a forerunner of sorts to actors like Vincent Gallo, Harvey Keitel and even Michael Richards, whose Kramer character in Seinfeld arguably owes a moment or two to Carey. In other words, this is an actor with a resonating presence. The idea of giving Carey a well-deserved tribute is thus highly appropriate, as well as being film festival retrospective programming at its finest.

Why has no one come up with this idea before? That’s The Big Timothy Carey Question. Quite simply.

"He's the World's Greatest Sinner" by eyeodyssey on Deviantart

“He’s the World’s Greatest Sinner” by Aaron Dylan Kearns (eyeodyssey) on DeviantArt

Video of the Week: “Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy”

OH MY GOD. Shield your eyes, folks, it’s Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy (1976) in its entirety. Horrible print, horrible film, and Timothy’s most over-the-top, unhinged performance ever. Well, maybe tied with The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

Co-star Rosanne Katon told Shock Cinema magazine that the production of this film was “chaotic”: “That’s another one where we had new pages every day, three directors – after a while it was like, ‘How do I get out of this?!’ It was one absurd situation after another. I think I stayed on just to watch Timothy Carey around the Craft Services table! He was certifiable. I mean, he was climbing the walls. They almost had to get a net just to pull him over so he could say his lines, and then he’d wander off again. It was insane. They had all these garbage trucks around, and girlfriends of the investors – when I wasn’t laughing at what was going on, I was reading a book in the corner. I’ll put it that way.”

 

Quote of the Week

I’ve been watching a lot of early Stanley Kubrick films. Films like Killer’s Kiss, Paths of Glory, The Killing, and Dr. Strangelove.  There’s a character actor in Paths of Glory and The Killing named Timothy Carey. He is one of the most bizarre actors ever. He usually speaks through gritted teeth. I mean he hardly ever opens them. He always adds the weird to every character he plays. Here’s a scene from a John Cassavetes film, Minnie & Moskowitz. He auditioned for the boss in Reservoir Dogs. But Tarantino was afraid to work with him. But he dedicated it to Carey and several of his cinematic influences.

Carey directed a 1962 film, The World’s Greatest Sinner. It’s a low, low, low budget movie, scored by a young, pre-Mothers Frank Zappa. It offended 1962 audiences so bad, it was not theatrically released. It’s so rare and obscure, I’ve never seen it.

Any way for your pleasure, here’s a caricature of late, great, and wacko Timothy Carey.

Thanks for looking. . . and sorry about the long windedness.

Tim by Kyle Wiggins

Timothy Carey by Kyle Wiggins

Quote of the Week

My other favorite memory [of filming The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)] is the image of Timothy Carey (a great character actor) who brought to the set with him a dwarf valet.  Mr.  Carey wore white gloves and before every shot he was a part of, he would take off the gloves and hand them to his valet.

My signed BOOKIE poster

My signed Bookie poster!

Quote of the Week

This week’s quote is from an independently published memoir by and about Robert Austin Brady, acting coach and former member of the American Mime Theater. He was briefly employed as assistant and driver to Stanley Kubrick, just before Kubrick started shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Apparently while driving Kubrick around, Brady got a chance to chat with him quite a bit about his films. While discussing Paths of Glory (1957), this choice interchange occurred. It is a remarkable, and let’s face it, rather disappointing read, for Kubrick throws major shade at Timothy, and also at Karl Malden.

**********

BOB: Absolutely. I think that was Kirk Douglas‘s best performance, and George Macready, who can also play heavy-handed, was terrific. And Timothy Carey, in several scenes, was riveting–unforgettable. You cast him earlier, in “The Killing“.

SK: Never again. He was wild–almost dangerous to have around. He was almost impossible to direct. He never matched his movements to his lines. He accidentally hit Ralph Meeker so hard in the face that we had to stop shooting for the day. He was brilliant, but impossible. As a matter of fact, my next film was going to be “One Eyed Jacks” with Marlon Brando as star/producer. I brought in Calder Willingham to adapt the script. Calder and I adapted “Paths of Glory“. I worked on the script for two months but then I decided to drop the project. My main reason was that Brando fired Calder, and my enthusiasm faded. The other factor was casting. Marlon had promised Karl Malden and Timothy Carey, the co-starring parts. I knew Karl Malden was not a worthy adversary for Marlon. He lacks charm and empathy. I don’t think he’s a good actor. I wanted Paul Newman for the part, or somebody like that, somebody the audience could feel some sympathy for and I certainly didn’t want to work with Timothy Carey again. So, Brando wound up directing.

One-Eyed Jacks

Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey is a maverick actor, a perfectionist, and according to one film critic, “the world’s greatest ham.” […]

Carey claims that director Stanley Kubrick once cautioned him to control his performance as Private Ferol in the 1957 Paths to [sic] Glory.

“‘Make this good. You’re too strong (an actor) for (the star) Kirk (Douglas),'” recalls Carey of Kubrick’s warning.

Nevertheless, Carey’s part – as the private on the way to his execution – squeezed every bit out of the scene and strengthened the movie’s theme against cold-blooded murder. The scene’s effectiveness grew partly from Carey’s innovations.

Richard VanderVeen, “Make way for ‘world’s greatest ham’”,  Ann Arbor News, April 14, 1979

Paths of Glory

 

Pic of the Day: “Across the Wide Missouri” revisited

Our “Timothy in color” theme this week continues with another look at his first verifiable film role (the jury is still out regarding his supposed appearance in Billy Wilder‘s Ace in the Hole, aka The Big Carnival), that of a corpse in William Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri (1951). Even though Wellman undoubtedly could have gotten anyone for the part, nobody could lay in freezing cold water with two arrows in his back like Tim.

Across the Wide Missouri

“I’ll never forget the director [William Wellman],” Tim recounted in the Psychotronic Video interview, “he was a great director, a tough director. I had two arrows in my back laying in the water. I couldn’t hold still, it was so cold and my teeth were chattering. The director said, ‘Keep that jerk still, he’s supposed to be dead!’ I had just come from dramatic school in New York. I thought I was a great actor, I’m the only one who did.”