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.”

Video of the Week: “Across the Wide Missouri”

12/01/15 EDIT: Another one bites the dust. Sorry about that!

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!

Quote of the Week

The Early Days
It is ironic that a man, whose name is so widely unrecognized, could make such an impression on so many people. You don’t forget Timothy Carey. The infancy of Carey’s career consisted of small roles, often playing “the heavy” or a sideline thug. Yet, Carey’s presence could not be overlooked.

Carey’s film career started small and didn’t really get to grow much more as time went on. His first film role came in 1951, with an uncredited role in Billy Wilder’s noir film The Big Carnival [Marisa’s note: AKA Ace in the Hole. Timothy may have been edited out of the finished film, however.] From there he played another small, uncredited part in the William A. Wellman‘s rustic western Across the Wide Missouri. After working in some forgettable films and playing small, miniscule parts, Carey got his first chance to really shine.

In André De Toth’s gritty noir drama, Crime Wave (1954), Carey’s appearance comes late in the film where he oozes malevolence as Johnny Haslett. He then spends a good deal of time off-camera babysitting the protagonist’s wife. A testament to Carey’s creepiness on screen, the brief glimpse of him as Haslett is enough to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Moving up from the number four thug to the crime boss’s right-hand man, Carey played Lou Terpe in Harold D. Schuster’s Finger Man (1955). Faithful to a fault, Carey makes the most of his small role, seething with pent-up penitentiary anger at the film’s wimpy hero.

Between his work in Crime Wave and Finger Man, Carey had a small part in the Marlon Brando vehicle, The Wild One. Carey was uncredited in the film, but even with the limited screen time and lack of respect he was given, he managed to turn in the most memorable performance in the film. With his spraying of the soda pop into Marlon Brando’s face, Carey carved his imprint into the minds of many, making his miniscule Chino Boy #1 credit much more than expected. And from there, his small but loud presence in many films to come, like East of Eden, Rumble on the Docks, and Revolt in the Big House, created the enigmatically fascinating actor that one can only call Timothy Carey.

– Sam McAbee, “Timothy Carey: Saint of the Underground”; Cashiers du Cinemart #12 (2001)

The Wild One

Quote of the Week

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).

Jon C. Hopwood, Timothy Carey on IMDb

The Killing

Quote of the Week

Carey’s career as a character actor began with the role of a dead man in Across the Wide Missouri, directed by William Wellman, who, Carey recalled, “was a great director and a tough director. I had two arrows in my back laying in the water. I couldn’t hold still, it was so cold 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.”

The pattern for Carey’s acting career was set. Director and player wrestled for control of a scene. Directors who afforded Carey room to operate, those who were able to understand his capabilities, worked well with him. Carey played the absolute heavy to the relative heavy in a string of hard-boiled dramas of the early ‘50s including Hellgate, The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole] and Finger Man. […]

By the mid-50’s, Carey’s work had attracted the attention of a number of directors. Elia Kazan cast him in East of Eden, playing the bouncer at a brothel owned by James Dean’s mother. This experience would produce the only serious regret of Carey’s professional life. Kazan decided that the actor’s Brooklynese was not to his liking, and had Carey’s voice dubbed over, significantly marginalizing his presence in the film. He and Dean bonded during the production. This culminated in one of Dean’s infamous reckless Sunday drives through Salinas. After they returned to the set Carey said, prophetically, “I’m never getting in a car with him again.”

– Alex de Laszlo, “The Wonderful Horrible Life of Timothy Carey”, Uno Mas magazine, 1996

Across the Wide Missouri

Quote of the Week

We are indebted to 50 Westerns From the 50s blogger Toby Roan (and his wife!) for this week’s quote. This is the earliest newspaper tidbit about Timothy that I’ve seen to date.

Timothy Carey of Brooklyn followed Horace Greeley‘s advice, went West and landed a screen role with Clark Gable in Across the Wide Missouri.

The lanky young Brookridge High School alumnus, following several seasons playing pro baseball, found himself in Colorado.

He heard that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was about to film the outdoor saga near Durango. With summer stock experience in the east to his credit, Carey set up housekeeping at an abandoned cabin near the studio location.

He finally met Director William Wellman, who gave him the role of French Dunord, Gable’s trapper friend.

Not being a member of the regular Hollywood group, Carey has the distinction of being the only screen actor to share a cabin with several chipmunks.

– “Hollywood Newsreel,” Lebanon (PA) Daily News, August 24, 1950

Across the Wide Missouri

The entirety of Tim’s role as “French Dunord, Gable’s trapper friend”

Quote of the Week

Whether looming over the strangely invertebrate James Dean as the muscle of the local brothel in East of Eden or buying the farm in a whisker-quick saloon shoot-out with Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks, the disheveled, vertiginous Timothy Carey performed, through much of his career, as the kind of thespian rarity whose flickering presence, even when bereft of a fleshed-out “character,” struck a loud, long-resonating note in the frequently seam-riddled “seamless narratives” it embellished. Like a portal into a reality hidden from view by scopophobic hysteria, Carey materialized from an alternate universe devoid of heroes and legible story lines.

Available accounts and filmographies of Carey’s early career typify his roles in exploitation pictures as “oozing malevolence,” citing creepy gangster turns in Andre de Toth‘s Crime Wave and Harold D. Schuster‘s Finger Man, as well as uncredited parts in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole – ed.] and William A. Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri. In 1953’s The Wild One, he got to spray Brando in the face with a shaken-up carbonated beverage – some say beer, others soda pop. He was physically attacked by Richard Widmark during the filming of The Last Wagon in 1956, and pummeled by Karl Malden on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, or so the legends go; according to some of Carey’s enthusiasts, his parts got progressively bigger in B-circuit pictures for a time, then shrank as his uninhibited behavior off-camera, and scene-swiping on, earned him the poisonous sobriquet of being “difficult.”

Only the sharpest and restive of “great” directors, and the most cynically astute hacks, recognized Carey’s innate ability to enlarge a piece of cinema into something beyond cinema. Anecdotal evidence reflects how often even those who perceived Carey’s ungovernable grandeur were either prevented from casting him, or themselves provoked by his antics into tossing him out of a picture.

He was, in effect, too much of what he was, too formidably present to evaporate into a peripheral presence; both his imposing physicality and his avid wish to smuggle something living into something simulated got him scotched from films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Grifters; the insecurity of Harvey Keitel purportedly scrapped a  major role in Reservoir Dogs; Carey, by his own account, sabotaged his own way out of The Godfather and Godfather II.

Gary Indiana, “Timothy Carey: The Refusal of the Repressed,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/VoxPopuli, 2011)

East of Eden (1955)