Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey is a maverick actor, a perfectionist, and according to one film critic, “the world’s greatest ham.” […]

Carey claims that director Stanley Kubrick once cautioned him to control his performance as Private Ferol in the 1957 Paths to [sic] Glory.

“‘Make this good. You’re too strong (an actor) for (the star) Kirk (Douglas),'” recalls Carey of Kubrick’s warning.

Nevertheless, Carey’s part – as the private on the way to his execution – squeezed every bit out of the scene and strengthened the movie’s theme against cold-blooded murder. The scene’s effectiveness grew partly from Carey’s innovations.

Richard VanderVeen, “Make way for ‘world’s greatest ham’”,  Ann Arbor News, April 14, 1979

Paths of Glory

 

Quote of the Week

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.

Speedtrap

Quote of the Week

The first day I visited Universal Pictures in 1978, I met a legendary actor at the studio commissary. Timothy Carey. I went up to talk with him.

He didn’t look as he did in the movies, but I sure recognized him. Whatever quality he had on the screen floated around him like a wraith. You know what I mean.

He was the crazed horse sniper in The Killing, delivering lines through his teeth like an insane Kirk Douglas parody, working out the details of his grisly shooting job, all the while lovingly scratching a puppy.

He was the condemned French soldier in Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory, set unfairly to die before the firing squad. His cellmate says a roach in their cell will outlive them, and Carey crushes the insect, commenting “Now you’ve got the edge on him.”

Later, as they march helplessly to the firing squad, Carey improvises his own forlorn dialogue, to tremendously moving effect. He was one of only a few actors Kubrick would allow to do that.

I talked to Tim Carey quite a while. He was very friendly and didn’t mind. He really made my day. We talked about movie acting and Stanley Kubrick and Marlon Brando and Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson and the indie feature movies Tim made with his own money.

Then we had to go. It was time for my appointment. He was at Universal to do some other business.

He raised and trained attack dogs now, and gave me his business card for his dog-training company “K-9 Attack Dogs.” It was in my wallet for a long time, and then on my bulletin board, (next to Stanley Kubrick’s phone number). I called Mr. Carey a couple of times; he was always nice, even though I wasn’t in the dog market.

I’m so glad I met him; he was an original. What a character in real life, and when the cameras started rolling, always completely perfect for the screen. Every movie he was in, he stole the frame, no matter who else was in it. Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, anybody. What a career.

And talk about chutzpah – he once climbed over the Fox studio wall – in a suit of armor – to get an audition for Prince Valiant. Can’t beat that. Lots of people have been influenced by him. I know I have.

Quentin Tarantino‘s script for Reservoir Dogs is dedicated to a list of influences. Timothy Carey heads that list.

Timothy Carey, I salute you.

Paths of Glory

Quote of the Week

Scene

1957 / Paths of Glory – Timothy Carey kills a cockroach.

U.S. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Ralph Meeker, Timothy Carey.

Why It’s Key: A quintessential character actor achieves his apotheosis when his character kills a bug.

To cover up his vain blunders, a French general (George Macready) in World War I orders three of his soldiers (Ralph Meeker, Joe Turkel, Timothy Carey), chosen almost at random, to be court-martialed and then shot by a firing squad for dereliction of duty, as an example to their fellow soldiers. When their last meal is brought to them, they can mainly only talk desperately about futile plans for escape and the hopelessness of their plight. Then Corporal Paris (Meeker) looks down at a cockroach crawling across the table and says, “See that cockroach? Tomorrow morning, we’ll be dead and it’ll be alive. It’ll have more contact with my wife and child than I will. I’ll be nothing, and it’ll be alive.” Ferol smashes the cockroach with his fist and says, almost dreamily, “Now you got the edge on him.”

We’re apt to laugh at the absurdism and grotesquerie of the moment — especially Timothy Carey’s deadpan delivery, as if he had a mouthful of mush and was soft-pedaling the phrase like Lester Young on his tenor sax. One of the creepiest character actors in movies, he doesn’t fit the period; even if we accept him as a French soldier, accepting him as one in World War I is more of a stretch, because he registers like a contemporary beatnik. That’s also how he comes across in East of Eden, One-Eyed Jacks, The Killing, or The Killing of Chinese Bookie. But for precisely that reason, he gives the line the existential ring it deserves.

Paths of Glory

Quote of the Week

“A bad actor is rich, unique, idiosyncratic, revealing of himself,” Jack Smith once wrote. Timothy Agoglia Carey (1929–1994), subject of a 10-day retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, was surely all of those things, but he was not exactly a bad actor—this Brooklyn-born, apparently self-taught Method man was more like a way of life.

A scary presence onscreen, Carey was an imposing palooka prone to upstaging fellow cast members by artfully flinging his body around the set. He had a shambling, sleepy-eyed stance and the grinning volatility of a barroom brawler, playing tough guys, lunatics, and chortling combinations of the two—although his career role was as a whimpering coward. As a performer, Carey was unafraid to make a spectacle of himself. His earliest claim to fame was as a member of Lee Marvin’s motorcycle gang in The Wild One (1953), spontaneously opening a beer bottle and surprising Marlon Brando, the grand master of on-camera improvisation, with a shower of suds.

However pissed, Brando did employ Carey again in his sole directorial effort, One-Eyed Jacks (1961)—or maybe it was Stanley Kubrick, the project’s original director. Kubrick had used Carey twice before to tremendous effect—as the racetrack hit man in The Killing (1956), enthusiastically primed to assassinate a horse and, even more memorably, as one of the condemned soldiers in Paths of Glory (1957). Unfairly sentenced to death, Carey steals the movie with his smirky drawl, inappropriate giggles, cud-chewing line reading, and sobbing cri de coeur: “I don’t wanna die!!!!!!” This embodiment of pure, hysterical fear made Carey an underground hero and, seven years later, inspired Esquire to run his picture opposite John Wayne’s as a paradigm of the so-called New Sentimentality: “A minor character actor who manages to excite us in a personal way is a real celebrity.”

Carey’s subsequent movie career was spotty but choice—a sadistic Union sergeant in Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing (1967), a version of himself in Bob Rafelson’s Monkees musical Head (1968), and a fastidious, Marx-quoting mobster in John Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Anthology is showing these, as well as Carey’s two most alarming vehicles, the indie cheapster Bayou (1957), re-released five years later as Poor White Trash with an added rape scene (starring guess-who), and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962), a movie that Carey wrote, directed, and produced over a three-year period—while appearing in nearly every shot.

The high point of Poor White Trash is Carey’s Cajun love dance, knees knocking and mouth agape. This agonized mambo is reprised in The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Carey’s bored insurance salesman becomes first a leather-lunged, immortality-promising street preacher, then a frantic rock-’n’-roller who bills himself as God, and, finally, dignified with a paste-on goatee and campaigning against death, the presidential candidate of the Eternal Man Party. Blasphemy aside, his sins include sex with female followers from 14 to 83, gratuitously smacking his little daughter and stabbing a sacramental wafer to see if it bleeds.

Fabulously scored by then unknown 20-year-old Frank Zappa, The World’s Greatest Sinner is far from incompetent filmmaking—it’s as idiotic, crafty, and unpredictable as Carey’s performance. Placing his satire at the intersection of politics, celebrity, and the media, Sinner is thematically the missing link between A Face in the Crowd and Wild in the Streets. It’s also a skid-row psychodrama to double-bill with Ed Wood’s plea for transvestite acceptance Glen or Glenda or Spencer Williams’s stark morality play The Blood of Jesus. Perhaps someday, someone will do Clint Eastwood a favor and show Sinner with Hereafter.

Quote of the Week

The second picture I did was for Allied Artists and was titled Unwed Mother, a very provocative title for the late fifties. It starred Timothy Carey, an actor who had scored in Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory alongside Kirk Douglas. In our picture, Timothy played the role of an abortionist (also pretty frisky stuff for that time). When he arrived on the set to do his scene, dressed appropriately in a cheap dark suit, he opened his black medical bag and from it brought out some of the ugliest, vilest-looking knives, tools, hammers, and sundry stuff you’d likely see only in some triple-X horror movie. This bag had not been furnished by the prop department, nor was a bag of that kind mentioned in the script. It was all Timothy’s idea, and he had to be talked out of using it in his scene by the director [Walter Doniger], who threatened to have him fired and, if possible, kicked out of the Screen Actors Guild. He finally did acquiesce, and I heard very little about or from him since then.*

*Marisa’s note: I guess he forgot about the Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode he and Timothy did together.

Unwed Mother

Quote of the Week

Anybody who thinks Hollywoodites are normal persons like the folks next door should meet Timothy Carey, the strangest, wildest actor of them all.

Carey played the role of the creepy killer in last year’s “The Killing,” one of the best whodunits of many a season. In person he is creepier and makes Marlon Brando and Jack Palance look proper as Sunday school teachers.

A Mobile, Ala., theater man [M.A. Ripps] who saw the picture got so excited over Tim that he produced his first movie, “Bayou,” in order to star the 24-year old [more like 27] Carey. Tim gets special billing in his next picture, “Paths of Glory,” starring Kirk Douglas.

But before this success were years of troubles, apparently because of his inhibited [sic – this must be a typo, surely they meant “uninhibited”] behavior.

Aline Mosby, “Carey Is Strangest, Wildest Actor”; newspaper column, March 7, 1957

Bayou

Pic of the Day: “Paths of Glory” promotional still

Today’s pic is another promotional still from Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory (1957). Col. Dax (Kirk Douglas) is going over his notes during the court-martial of the three scapegoated prisoners (Timothy, Ralph Meeker and Joe Turkel).

Paths of Glory

My husband is especially fond of Tim’s rather rakishly defiant stance in this pic. I most definitely share that fondness.

Pic of the Day: “Fast-Walking” revisited

Let’s kick off the week with another look at Bullet, the junkie con of James B. Harris‘ prison drama Fast-Walking (1982). Here he expresses his displeasure with Wasco’s (Tim McIntire) money-making scheme.

Fast-Walking

As we all know, Harris is the man who fired Timothy from Paths of Glory (1957). As Harris recently recounted in an interview with Film Comment, “I got a call at six in the morning from the Munich police, saying Tim had been found abandoned on the highway, bound hand and foot, claiming he’d been kidnapped. They thought production was responsible, looking for publicity, that it was a staged act. I said I knew nothing about it, but we needed him to work—they were holding him down at the police station. I told them that Tim was making up this story because he wanted the publicity, not us. So they said they would accommodate us by bringing him to the film studio—they were gonna interview him there. But Tim wouldn’t agree to the statement he was supposed to sign, he kept changing things about it. So I went up to Tim and said: ‘We’re all waiting for you. Sign the paper and get to work.’ And he wouldn’t sign the paper, so I fired him right there.”

Quote of the Week

This is an insightful piece that deserves to be quoted in its entirety.

*****

The World’s Greatest Sinner, Timothy Carey

In the spring of 2009 Vox Populi hosted a show and 3 screenings featuring the works of Timothy Carey. Timothy Carey was an actor, director, screenwriter and producer who, like his friend John Cassavetes, remains more famous for the films he made to finance his own smaller and independent pictures. The approach to the business of making films that these two men took is perhaps more relevant today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. That is to say, through their example, shouldn’t every struggling filmmaker be capable of producing films on their own terms and far from meddling hands? Perhaps, but it is the importance of Timothy Carey to American cinema which I intend to address today, and perhaps in the process answer the question I have posed above.

After a string of bit roles, most notably in early Kubrick films (The Killing and Paths Of Glory), Timothy Carey was able to make a film of his own titled The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962).

In this film, Carey stars as a working stiff who quits his job, forms a hit rock band, then rallies his fan base around him into a Satanic religious cult financed by elderly women he’s seduced. Like Roger Corman’s early films of social commentary (The Intruder), The World’s Greatest Sinner makes heavy use of character actors and non-professionals. However, Carey distinguishes himself here better than Corman managed to. Carey, an actor himself, was better at casting non-professionals, placing them in roles closer to their own lives and thus allowing them to behave and “perform” more organically. Carey also embraces the black and white photography in his film, as opposed to heavily lighting the sets, which was customary for low budget films, assuming they would play mostly at drive-ins. Carey works with high contrast compositions, similar to the film noir genre, though not so rigorous.

This gives his film a very edgy quality that allows it to be equal parts confrontational and nightmarish as well as having a true-to-life atmosphere facilitated by his performers. Those aesthetic mechanisms are what make Carey’s satire of the music industry so impressionable and haunting. Without such skill to the formalist trappings of the film, its premise would seem ridiculous and would have been easily dismissed by audiences as campy excess. Another significant fact worth noting is that the films score was composed by a young Frank Zappa.

However, despite the then iconoclastic nature of his film, Carey was never able to procure a distributor, leaving his film on the festival circuit for years till the advent of cable. Carey, unlike Cassavetes, lacked the personal resources to self-distribute his films. Regardless, The World’s Greatest Sinner has gone on to become a high profile cult film with a large fan base and the influence accompanied by such an audience.

Sadly, The World’s Greatest Sinner is the closest Timothy Carey ever came to domestic distribution, since the rest of his films are either incomplete or have only been shown in competition a handful of times.  Despite these setbacks to his own filmmaking career, Carey has appeared in a number of films spanning a wide variety of genres during the 1960s and 1970s.  Of these films, his work with John Cassavetes is the most significant and lasting.

Timothy Carey first worked with John Cassavetes in the film Minnie & Moskowitz (1971), playing Morgan Morgan.  According to film scholar Ray Carney, the scene in which Carey appears was done as a favor by Cassavetes to help him finance one of his own films. Regardless of the motivation, Carey gives a hysterical performance, improvising almost all of his lines opposite of Seymour Cassel.  Next, Carey appeared in Cassavetes’ personal and allegorical film about a life in show business, The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie.

Carey appears more in the original cut of the film from 1976, playing a gangster out to collect money from Ben Gazzara’s character Cosmo.  Again, Cassavetes allowed Carey a comical freedom with his portrayal of the gangster, often appearing while stuffing his face with food.

Of all the films Carey acted in outside his own, the two made with Cassavetes are among his best, and certainly surpass his foray into exploitation films in regards to the quality of his performance and the film in general.  To this day, Timothy Carey is among those filmmakers cited as the “Godfathers” of American Independent films, and is therefore worth checking out.

– Robert Curry, “The World’s Greatest Sinner, Timothy Carey”; Zimbo Films, April 12, 2012

The World's Greatest Sinner