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

Pic of the Day: “Francis in the Haunted House” revisited

We kick off the week a day late (sorry about that) with another look at Hugo, the silent, lumbering castle henchman of Francis in the Haunted House (1956), directed by Charles Lamont. Open the door – close the door. That’s all Hugo does all day.

Francis in the Haunted House

Lamont’s directing career began in the silent era and continued full steam ahead until the late 1950s. He directed, produced and/or wrote scores of shorts and features, specializing in comedies starring the likes of Abbott and Costello and Ma and Pa Kettle. While directing the musical short War Babies (1932), he was so impressed with the talent of one little 4 year old that he brought her out of the chorus and put her into the spotlight. Her name was Shirley Temple. Lamont directed her again in several more shorts over the next few years.

Mickey Rooney 1920 – 2014

Another legend has left us. Perennial cinematic fireball Mickey Rooney passed away yesterday at the age of 93. Timothy worked with him in Francis in the Haunted House (1956). Interestingly enough, Rooney wrote in his autobiography that he had virtually no memories of the making of this film. How could he forget being carried around by Tim? (I’m being facetious; you’ll see why in a moment.)

Francis in the Haunted House

Rooney, born Joe Yule, Jr. in Brooklyn, made his stage debut in his parents’ vaudeville act at the age of 17 months. He made his first film, a short, in 1926. He was working on a new version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when he passed. That’s an 88-year film career, ladies and gentlemen. Eighty-eight years. Let that sink in for a moment. Better minds than I will be writing better tributes to him and his brilliant career than I ever could, so I leave you to them. I’ll just say rest well and thank you, Mickey.

Pic of the Day: “Francis in the Haunted House” revisited

As Halloween approaches, we take another look at Hugo, hulking castle minion, in Francis in the Haunted House (1956), directed by Charles Lamont. Here he calmly assess the situation with Helen Wallace, Virginia Welles, Charles Horvath (holding the empty suit of armor) and (I’m fairly certain) Paul Cavanagh.

Francis in the Haunted House (1956)

Horvath was one of the top stuntmen in Hollywood, brawling his way through countless films and television shows from the late 1940s until his death in 1978. He and Timothy had uncredited roles in Joseph M. Newman‘s The Gunfight at Dodge City (1959). And like Tim, he worked with John Cassavetes late in his career, in A Woman Under the Influence (1974).

Pic of the Day: “Francis in the Haunted House” revisited

Today’s pic revisits Francis in the Haunted House (1956), starring Mickey Rooney as the put-upon sidekick to the famous talking mule. Timothy, in the “Igor” role as Hugo, silent, lumbering minion of the castle, is showing a gaggle of not-too-bright cops – including Dick Winslow, James Flavin and David Janssen – the door.

Francis in the Haunted House

My goodness, Hugo – is that the key to the dungeon in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Rooney admitted in his autobiography that he remembers nothing about the making of this film. How could he forget being carried around by Tim? Romeo Carey told me that his father’s role in this film was the springboard for the very first “Timothy Carey Fan Club”!

Pic of the Day: “Chain of Evidence” revisited

Today’s pic is another from Chain of Evidence (1957), one of the low-budget crime dramas starring former Western star “Wild Bill” Elliott as Det. Lt. Andy Doyle. Timothy’s bad-tempered Carl Fowler is confronting the man who gave him that scar, Steve Nordstrom (Jimmy Lydon). Tim must have filmed this around the same time as Francis in the Haunted House (1956), as he’s sporting basically the same flat-top haircut in both.

Chain of Evidence

To completely change the subject, I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Tim’s son Romeo Carey and his wife on the recent birth of their third child, daughter Prima! Timothy has a new grandchild. That warms my fuzzy little heart.

Videos of the Week: Happy Halloween!

Halloween greetings to one and all! I’ve posted both of these before, but they’re the scariest ones I could come up with for today. First up is the trailer for Francis in the Haunted House (1956), the closest thing to a horror film that Timothy ever appeared in (unless you count Chesty Anderson U.S. Navy, heh heh). Tim can briefly be glimpsed here as Hugo, hulking castle minion. Narration by the great Frank Nelson of “Yyyyyeeeeeessssss???” fame; the voice of Francis and of the ghost by the equally great, if not legendary, Paul Frees, who would go on to provide the voice of The Snake in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

Next we have the infamous “Atta boy Mike” scene from Head (1968). It’s weird, it’s creepy, it’s ridiculous, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! Enjoy!

Tim as Frankenstein’s monster, from the long-lost Sambo’s commercial of the early 1980s