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

Quote of the Week

The Brooklyn-born Carey was physically imposing—a strapping 6’4”—making him ideal for roles as brutish heavies, and he resembled a love child of Nicolas Cage and John Turturro. His penchant for improvisation—bizarre dancing, unscripted outbursts, mumbled nonsense—often got him into trouble with directors and other actors, but made lifelong fans of Jack Nicholson (who wrote Head and likely borrowed elements of Carey’s persona for his performance in The Shining [1980]); [John] Cassavetes (who claimed Carey had the “brilliance of Eisenstein”); and Quentin Tarantino, who considered Carey for the role of crime boss Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs (1992).

For mondo video devotees, Carey sealed his immortality with the self-written/produced/directed oddity The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), which can be characterized as [Elia] Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) as directed by Ed Wood Jr. The film, which has some of the same proto–John Waters tackiness of The Honeymoon Killers (1970), tells the tale of a bored insurance salesman who becomes an early Elvis-style rockabilly sensation. Noting the frenzy he inspires in his audiences, he begins calling himself “God,” founds a religious cult, and runs for President. Carey and his singularly untalented “band” played their own detuned rock ‘n’ roll in the concert scenes, but the film was scored by a young, pre–Mothers of Invention Frank Zappa. Narrated by the devil and featuring the real God at the climax, Sinner was admired by Elvis himself (who asked Carey for a print) and remains one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll films.

Andrew Hultkrans, “Carey On”; Art Forum, October 12, 2010

The World's Greatest Sinner

Happy Birthday Marilyn!

Marilyn Monroe was born 89 years ago today. This is what Timothy had to say about her in a 1958 interview with columnist Mel Heimer.

Tim is working on three projects: (1) to out-dance Elvis Presley in Macy’s window, (2) to kidnap Marilyn Monroe (“with her permission, of course”), and (3) to steal an Oscar.

– Mel Heimer, My New York; Simpson’s Leader-Times, January 18, 1958

Marilyn Monroe

Quote of the Week

Of course, the main reason to see THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER is to observe Timothy Carey with the brakes removed. He’s mesmerizing in every scene but subtlety is not his specialty. Some critics have accused him of being a total ham and his scene chewing has an excessive, bigger-than-life quality. But just try to tear your eyes away from the screen.

Watch him shake like a bowl of radioactive jello as his Elvis-like alter ego dressed in gold lamé (There’s a little James Brown thrown in as well – “Please! Please! Please! Please! Please! Take My Hand!” –  and maybe even some Tiny Tim). See him transform before your eyes into a hell and brimstone evangelist or play it sweet and low-key as an insurance salesman who’s just “seen the light.”

Carey has always had his own “style” of acting and when you start to consider all of the parts he’s played, he stands out in every movie, even in films where a director like Stanley Kubrick tightly controls every detail right down to an actor’s performance. Among some of my favorite Carey performances are his scary whorehouse bouncer in East of Eden, the shell-shocked, emotionally damaged soldier facing execution in Paths of Glory, the creepy gangster assigned to watch over hostage Phyllis Kirk in Andre de Toth’s Crime Wave, one of the hell-raising motorcycle gang members in The Wild One and his racetrack marksman in The Killing. Now you can add God Hilliard in THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER to your list of favorite Carey roles.

Jeff Stafford, “God Hilliard for President!”; Movie Morlocks (September 20, 2008)

TWGS

Quote of the Week

The real conflict, however, comes in the form of a Southern Fried übermensch named Ulysses (the eternally awe-inspiring Timothy Carey), local business owner and oil slick brute who has the screaming hots for Marie. The feeling is less than mutual with Marie prefering “dirt” over Ulysses, but he’s a man with an epic case of bullheadedness. […]

When BAYOU was first released by United Artists, as a B-picture on double-bills with self-produced features like TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR, it did not do that well – despite a young and attractive cast, handsome monochrome photography by Alabama-born brothers Vincent and Ted Saizis, some nicely authentic Southern Louisiana locales and a heart-stopping dance sequence by Timothy Carey, who makes Elvis Presley at his most manic seem like a Carmelite nun. It died a quite box office death. […]

And then approaching the stage like a hep cat Zeus meets Godzilla, is Ulysses, his arms up in the air looking like a resplendent rock and roll vision in a generic zydeco world.

He then quickly grabs Marie by her long hair and starts swinging her around, while Martin stands by a tree smoking. In an amazing move of deftness, Ulysses manages to unbutton his shirt while swinging around the unhappy-looking Marie, even switching arms. She manages to finally get free, leaving him to fully unleash the epic “Cajun dance” that entails a lot of manic hip thrusts, self-caressing and knee-knocking wildness.

The cuts of this sequence differ in both versions, for better and worse. In BAYOU, after Marie gets free, she runs over to check on Emil, then Martin (1:07:17). Carey’s dance is also (sadly) shorter. In POOR WHITE TRASH, the whole scene with Emil is cut out, making it look like Marie immediately checks on Martin after getting free from the Southern Psychotic Reaction Elvis. Also in PWT, they have looped some of the Cajun dance sequence, making it seem longer than it really was. This is not a bad thing, since I could watch an eight-hour cut of Carey frugging away. […]

Having a milquetoast hero doesn’t help, but there is enough artistry and good performances, courtesy of [Lita] Milan and [Douglas] Fowley, and an absolutely volcanic turn by Timothy Carey.

Now let’s all go crack hickory nuts and shimmy!

Heather Drain, “How’s Bayou? A Look at the Original Poor White Trash”; Video Watchdog No. 166 (Jan/Feb 2012)

Bayou

Pic of the Day: “Change of Habit” revisited

And now for a long-overdue look at the rude and probably racist grocery manager of Change of Habit (1969), Elvis Presley‘s last feature film. He has just realized that the mild-mannered nun he just sold a mop handle to is in fact his crusading nemesis, Sister Barbara (Jane Elliot).

Change of Habit

Timothy was directed here by the late William A. Graham, who also guided him through Waterhole #3 (1967) and The Name of the Game episode “Fear of High Places” (9.20.68).

Quote of the Week

Marilyn Monroe was born 88 years ago today. This is what Timothy had to say about her in a 1958 interview with columnist Mel Heimer.

Tim is working on three projects: (1) to out-dance Elvis Presley in Macy’s window, (2) to kidnap Marilyn Monroe (“with her permission, of course”), and (3) to steal an Oscar.

– Mel Heimer, My New York; Simpson’s Leader-Times, January 18, 1958

Marilyn Monroe