Outside of Timothy Carey, who Finley admires, few actors are more skilled at playing world-class oddballs or are more fun to watch doing it.
Timothy Carey was by no means one of Hollywood’s greatest character actors. Character actors, great or otherwise, like Peter Lorre or Bill Kennedy, were less restricted by studio contracts and could perform in several films per year. Carey appeared in few significant films and even fewer gave him the opportunity to unravel his extraordinary personality and acting abilities. He was frequently fired and his roles got shorter over the years, which is the opposite of what happens to great character actors. I seriously doubt that Timothy Carey even wanted to be a character actor in those particular circumstances. He just wanted to be a great actor, and judging by the way he improvised – not only his, but often his co-actors’ performances too – maybe what he really wanted was the chance to be a great director. And thank god he gave himself that chance.
This is a tribute to a man who started as one of Hollywood’s most amazing character actors but never fulfilled a fragment of his potential in that area because he was too uncompromising, too different, too creative, too ambitious, and too tall. As a character actor he “died” very young, like James Dean or Montgomery Clift. In fact, he killed himself when he was barely thirty, when he committed the ultimate hubris for a hopeful character actor: he produced, directed, and distributed one of the most outrageous feature films of his era, and he also starred in it.
The World’s Greatest Sinner is the story of an insurance salesman who gives up his job, forms a political party and a rock band, and calls himself “God.” Timothy Carey was a character actor no more. Instead, he became a legendary director and a film god, before being crucified – but I think somehow that was part of his script. Otherwise he had a good life, a home and six kids, more opportunities to create, a great deal of friends and admirers, and he remained too uncompromising, too different, too creative, too ambitious, and too tall until the day he died in 1994.
– Vassily Bourikas, “Cinema Justice,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/Vox Populi, 2011)