Modern hipsters didn’t invent the cult actor. Oh, we might all feel really cool raving about icons like Christopher Walken or newcomers like Michael Shannon. There’s still a long history of weirdo artists infiltrating our movie theaters and living rooms. Just consider the epic strangeness of Timothy Carey. He maintained a perfectly normal career as a character actor right through the 1980s. In fact, Carey would’ve managed one more great role if he’d passed Quentin Tarantino’s audition to play the crime boss in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino cast veteran oddball actor Lawrence Tierney instead. The director dedicated Reservoir Dogs to a list of idols that included Carey, though. That was nice–especially since Carey would pass away in 1994.
But why would Tarantino dedicate his first feature to a guy who’d shown up in mainstream TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, and CHiPs? That’s because Carey was far more than a character actor. He was a beatnik visionary and a true wild man. The young actor first made a name for himself by stealing a scene from Marlon Brando in the pioneering biker epic The Wild One. Carey didn’t even get billing, but the hulking actor with the basso voice was soon being used as a heavy by all kinds of directors. He gave one of his most compelling performances as a crazed Cajun in 1957’s Bayou, where he contributed to a sleazy atmosphere that kept the movie playing the drive-in circuit well into the ’70s.
Stanley Kubrick cast Carey in memorable roles for both The Killing and Paths of Glory, and a lot of other directors–including John Cassavetes–loved Carey’s knack for crazed improvisation. That was the kind of Hollywood connection that got Carey playing parts in three episodes of Columbo. Other directors, however, couldn’t tolerate Carey’s maniacal Method acting.
Carey did a lot to sabotage his own career, too. He turned down roles in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II–and walked off the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. That’s three less classics in Carey’s weird filmography, but he found time to appear in Chesty Anderson, U.S. Navy and the Joe Don Baker epic Speedtrap. To be fair, Chesty Anderson gave Carey the freedom to let loose with one of his more amazing performances.
Carey also wrote and directed himself to an amazing role in 1962’s The World’s Greatest Sinner–which was pretty much forgotten for most of Carey’s career. Originally, the film’s legend was kept alive by some musical contributions from Frank Zappa. Then Sinner began to build a bigger reputation as Carey’s own careening genius built his own cult. It’s an amazing film, and was recently restored and is now available to the masses. There’s no other movie like it.
UPDATE 09.17.15: And it’s gone! I guess we should be thankful…
OK folks. This week’s video is a prime example of how not to present a video online. As today is the birthday anniversary of the late great Peter Falk, I was hoping to share one of the three episodes of Columbo in which Timothy appears. I found this one on YouTube. It’s “Dead Weight,” first broadcast on October 27, 1971 and the second of Tim’s two outings as chili-slinger Bert. Now, I realize that YouTube constantly gets on people’s cases about uploading copyrighted material. But does that explain the annoying frame around the actual video, the fact that the sound is notably and gratingly slowed down, or the fact that the same episode plays twice in a row? All of these things render the video basically unwatchable, at least to my mind. I’ll let you make your own decision on that.
Until we get an official dedicated Columbo channel on YouTube, or maybe Hulu or someplace picks it up, this looks like the best we have to work with as far as the internet goes. It’s a damn shame, really.
Ending the week is another look at Tony, the frustrated actor/deli owner of the Columbo episode “Fade In to Murder.” We first met Tony on October 10, 1976. Here he is being held up as part of an elaborate murder plan by arrogant TV star Ward Fowler (William Shatner).
Another great Columbo episode (the last of the three in which Timothy appears), directed by the one and only Bernard L. Kowalski.
This week’s video is a full-length Columbo episode, in fact the very first Columbo episode. It’s “Ransom for a Dead Man,” premiering on March 1, 1971 and directed by Richard Irving. Timothy makes the first of his two series appearances as hash-slinger Bert (he was on the show three times in all, always as the purveyor of some kind of food).
The video quality isn’t the best, but beggars can’t be choosers, I guess. Enjoy this little slice of television history!
Our last video of the year is a full-length Columbo episode! It’s “Fade In to Murder,” first broadcast on October 10, 1976. It was the last of the three episodes of that well-loved detective series in which Timothy appears. Also on hand are William Shatner, Lola Albright, and of course, series star Peter Falk. Tim first appears at about the 9:55 mark.
Several folks have uploaded a bunch of Columbo episodes to YouTube, of varying frustrating quality. This is the best one I could find. Enjoy, and happy New Year, everyone!!