Video of the Week: “Finger Man”

EDITOR’S NOTE 10.14.15: Another one bites the dust. Sorry folks.

This week’s video is a clip from Finger Man (1955), directed by Harold D. Schuster. Timothy is Lou Terpe, the sullen muscle behind bootlegger/white slaver Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker). Also appearing is Peggie Castle as Gladys Baker, one of Becker’s girls who wants out of the whole racket.

As I mention every chance I get, this was the film that brought Tim to the attention of a young indie filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick, who was casting his first big Hollywood film The Killing (1956). The rest, as they say, is history.

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)


Pic of the Day: “Finger Man” revisited

We close out this rather eventful week with another look at Lou Terpe, the ill-tempered torpedo of Finger Man (1955). His boss, Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker), is attempting to restrain him from going gonzo on the “finger man” of the title, Casey Martin (Frank Lovejoy).

Finger Man

Lovejoy, from the Bronx, built a solid reputation as a dependable “square-jawed, intense, no-nonsense” type of actor who entered the profession as a teenager, after the stock market crash of 1929 ended his budding career on Wall Street. After stints on Broadway and radio, he made his film debut in 1948. He worked steadily until his death at age 50 in 1962 of a heart attack.

Quote of the Week

When you line up Carey’s noir work, it’s clear that the idiosyncratic touches he gives his minor characters truly set them apart. In the undervalued Allied Artists cheapie Finger Man (1955), Carey gets quite a bit more screen time… and steals the film from stars Frank Lovejoy and Forrest Tucker as crime boss Tucker’s right-hand goon Lou Terpe. (You have to wonder, did Carey think up his own character names, too?)

In this one, Tim’s still toking the smokes to great effect, but he also incorporates obsessive knuckle-cracking and seems a lot more sinister. He delights in groping women, rearranging their faces in back rooms, even killing them and stuffing them in trunks, as he eventually does to Lovejoy’s squeeze. But just when you’re convinced he’s the ultimate thug, Lovejoy surprises him in an alley and only has to whack him a few times to reduce him to a simpering boob. It’s classic Tim Carey, offering up an unanticipated left turn that stamps his performance as unforgettable.

Carl Steward, “Timothy Carey: Noir’s Wildest Card,” Noir City Annual #2: The Best of the 2009 Noir City Sentinel (Film Noir Foundation, 2010)

Finger Man

Quote of the Week

On this date in 1958, Marlon Brando began filming his sole directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks (1961). I posted this last year, but it bears repeating. It’s the chapter on Timothy from the book Brando Rides Alone (2004) by Barry Gifford.

3. Timothy Carey

Now here’s a character, a real character let alone a character actor. I’ll never, ever forget Timothy Carey as the rifleman who shoots and kills the racehorse in Kubrick’s The Killing, or as the mob thug in CassavetesThe Killing of a Chinese Bookie, and certainly not as the drunken lout in One-Eyed Jacks. With a lock of lank black hair always falling over one eye, Carey careened around menacingly in whatever context he appeared. His voice was deep but sounded as if he were always gargling, words bubbling up, burping at his listeners. Carey was big and darkly depraved looking – out of control scary, which often made him seem worse than Lawrence Tierney’s troubled personae. If little kids saw him lurching along the sidewalk headed their way, they’d abandon their toys and run. I saw him on a latenight TV talk show, wearing a too-small Hawaiian shirt, detailing for the horrified host his life’s work: the study of flatulence. He was deranged, not dangerous, I guessed. Tom Luddy, who worked for Francis Coppola, once gave me, for a reason I no longer remember, Timothy Carey’s address and telephone number, which I still have in my directory – he lived in El Monte, California – but I never got in touch with him other than telepathically, and a few years ago he died. In an essay I wrote about an absurd little 1955 movie called Finger Man, I described Carey as being unequaled at The Unbridled Snarl. He couldn’t control his hands or his hair. He justified the French intellectual’s image of the typical American male. And just what do I know about how French intellectuals think? you may well ask. And while you’re at it, exactly what – or who – is a typical American male?

Brando and Tim on the One-Eyed Jacks set

Pic of the Day: “Finger Man” publicity still

Our pic of the day is a British publicity still from Finger Man (1955), directed by Harold D. Schuster. Timothy’s sullen torpedo Lou Terpe is menacing the ill-fated blonde (not sure who the actress is) who has just told him, “Get your big wet paws offa me!” Lou’s boss, bootlegger and “white slaver” Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker), sits at the far right.

The British publicity materials are interesting; I have a few from The Boy and the Pirates that are tinted blue! In general, I find non-American film memorabilia to be a bit more off-beat and colorful than most of their American counterparts. The Mexican lobby cards are especially good examples of this.

On a Super-Secret Mission from God.

Not really. Well, it’s not super-secret at any rate. Anyway, I am in the Los Angeles area for the next two weeks. I will be meeting up with the dear folks with whom I will be working on Tim’s biography. Posting may be sporadic for the next few days at least. However, more will be revealed! So watch this space. In the meantime, here is a random pic of Tim.


Pic of the Day: “Finger Man” revisited

Today we take another look at Finger Man (1955), the nifty noir-esque crime drama directed by Harold D. Schuster. Timothy is sullen torpedo Lou Terpe, who “don’t like nobody” except his boss, Dutch Becker (Forrest Tucker).

Tucker, who early in his show-biz career acted as master of ceremonies for the Old Gayety Burlesque in Washington, D.C.,  used to date burlesque queen Betty Rowland. However, this is not the same Betty Rowland who portrayed long-suffering Edna Hilliard in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), as has been widely reported.

Quote of the Week AND Pic of the Day: “Finger Man” revisited

I’m a day behind on our quote for the week, so today you get that and our pic for today, which ties in with the quote. See what I did there?

“Another time I did a show called Finger Man with Frank Lovejoy. They needed some publicity for the show, so I went to the Santa Monica Pier and I was going to be thrown in the water in a trunk in front of the press, but the box was supposed to open up so I wouldn’t drown. But the newsmen wanted to lock it. So I went in but I didn’t lock it and the police came to arrest me. Then the producer John Burrows came and he helped me out. You know, I was always a hound for publicity.”

Psychotronic Video magazine #6, Summer 1990; interview by Michael Murphy and Johnny Legend, research by Michael J. Weldon