Quote of the Week

Timothy Carey. The face. The jowls. The unshaven stubble. Those teeth. How he stood. How he walked… and fuckin’ hell, how the man talked! Oozing his way across screens, TV, and drive-in… big movies, tiny oddities, TV appearances.

Was Ernest Borgnine gunning him down in “Airwolf” once? I’m pretty sure that happened. He gave off the impression of smelling like an egg and pepper sandwich, or even a chain-smoking gravedigger in the words of one onlooker to his crazed career.

His appearances in Kubrick films always fascinated me as this was clearly a character who played by his own highly idiosyncratic, possibly hypocritical rules — who operated from a revised script that existed only in his head, occupying a parallel film universe to characters he’d share the screen with.

Drawing attention to himself with little twitches and odd ticks — you couldn’t help but stare at him. He stole every scene he was in just by breathing heavily… Then came his work with Cassavetes, another genuine celluloid crazy who did things his way. Obviously they got on great for a while and sweated through several films together.

I’d heard about The World’s Greatest Sinner for years without getting hold of a copy. In the interim, his other acting roles and interview in Psychotronic were fetishized to a terrifying degree… Then: a breakthrough. My chance finally came when his son Romeo presented a print at the Egyptian Theater. I was inexplicably sitting behind Poison Ivy and Lux Interior of The Cramps when the film began to go through the projector and without a doubt it changed my life. Or were they there a little later at a Maria Montez night?

These life-changing, namedropping experiences happen thick and fast in retrospect and begin to stick to each other like filthy magazine fragments in the gutter.

The World's Greatest Sinner

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

Quote of the Week

I’ve been watching a lot of early Stanley Kubrick films. Films like Killer’s Kiss, Paths of Glory, The Killing, and Dr. Strangelove.  There’s a character actor in Paths of Glory and The Killing named Timothy Carey. He is one of the most bizarre actors ever. He usually speaks through gritted teeth. I mean he hardly ever opens them. He always adds the weird to every character he plays. Here’s a scene from a John Cassavetes film, Minnie & Moskowitz. He auditioned for the boss in Reservoir Dogs. But Tarantino was afraid to work with him. But he dedicated it to Carey and several of his cinematic influences.

Carey directed a 1962 film, The World’s Greatest Sinner. It’s a low, low, low budget movie, scored by a young, pre-Mothers Frank Zappa. It offended 1962 audiences so bad, it was not theatrically released. It’s so rare and obscure, I’ve never seen it.

Any way for your pleasure, here’s a caricature of late, great, and wacko Timothy Carey.

Thanks for looking. . . and sorry about the long windedness.

Tim by Kyle Wiggins

Timothy Carey by Kyle Wiggins

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.

**********

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