Quote of the Week

This week’s quote is from an independently published memoir by and about Robert Austin Brady, acting coach and former member of the American Mime Theater. He was briefly employed as assistant and driver to Stanley Kubrick, just before Kubrick started shooting 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Apparently while driving Kubrick around, Brady got a chance to chat with him quite a bit about his films. While discussing Paths of Glory (1957), this choice interchange occurred. It is a remarkable, and let’s face it, rather disappointing read, for Kubrick throws major shade at Timothy, and also at Karl Malden.

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BOB: Absolutely. I think that was Kirk Douglas‘s best performance, and George Macready, who can also play heavy-handed, was terrific. And Timothy Carey, in several scenes, was riveting–unforgettable. You cast him earlier, in “The Killing“.

SK: Never again. He was wild–almost dangerous to have around. He was almost impossible to direct. He never matched his movements to his lines. He accidentally hit Ralph Meeker so hard in the face that we had to stop shooting for the day. He was brilliant, but impossible. As a matter of fact, my next film was going to be “One Eyed Jacks” with Marlon Brando as star/producer. I brought in Calder Willingham to adapt the script. Calder and I adapted “Paths of Glory“. I worked on the script for two months but then I decided to drop the project. My main reason was that Brando fired Calder, and my enthusiasm faded. The other factor was casting. Marlon had promised Karl Malden and Timothy Carey, the co-starring parts. I knew Karl Malden was not a worthy adversary for Marlon. He lacks charm and empathy. I don’t think he’s a good actor. I wanted Paul Newman for the part, or somebody like that, somebody the audience could feel some sympathy for and I certainly didn’t want to work with Timothy Carey again. So, Brando wound up directing.

One-Eyed Jacks

Videos of the Week: “Paths of Glory”and “Minnie & Moskowitz”

Today is the birthday anniversary of not one but two great men who played important roles in Timothy’s career. After wondering why I never noticed this before, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to both of them at once.

First up is Kirk Douglas, who turns an incredible 99 years old today. He may not have been thrilled with Tim’s improvisational acting style in Stanley Kubrick‘s Paths of Glory (1957), but you would never know it from this scene, from the court-martial of the three scapegoated prisoners.

John Cassavetes, who did appreciate Tim’s freestyle approach to his craft, was born on this date in 1929. He managed to capture Tim’s essence in two fantastic films, Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Here is Tim’s appearance in the former film, with star Seymour Cassel, in its glorious entirety.

Happy birthday, gentlemen!

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.