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

Video of the Week: “The World’s Greatest Sinner” revisited

The late, great, legendary Lux Interior of The Cramps would have been 69 years old today. He was a huge fan of Timothy and The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962). In his honor and memory, I am re-posting this video that features God Hilliard working his voodoo magic, accompanied by Frank Zappa‘s title tune.

“You won’t believe [Carey’s] performance [in The World’s Greatest Sinner],” Lux once said. “He just starts shaking and his hair falls down . . . He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilly movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life. Wow!”

Quote of the Week

You won’t believe [Carey’s] performance [in The World’s Greatest Sinner]. He just starts shaking and his hair falls down . . . He must have watched Jerry Lee Lewis or something. He starts rolling around on the stage, he’s just shaking all over. It’s a live performance and he’s just smashing his guitar, he’s really beating on it real loud. This is one of the greatest rockabilly movies ever made. If you get a chance to see it, it’ll just change your life. Wow!

Lux Interior of the The Cramps

Ivy and Lux

Poison Ivy and Lux Interior

Quote of the Week

For a weird, Z-grade movie, The World’s Greatest Sinner is remarkably prescient. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, there would be an explosion of God Hilliards out there. The Manson Family, the MOVE, the SLA, and Jonestown were all political and religious hybrid cults with charismatic leaders that led their followers into horrible ends.

The film’s music was composed and conducted by an (at the time) unknown musician from the L.A. area, Frank Zappa. There’s nothing in the music that is noticeably Zappa-esque, it mostly sounds like countless other swinging soundtracks from no-budget ‘60s films. Zappa briefly promoted the film during his 1963 appearance on the Steve Allen Show. There to show off his talents at playing the bicycle as a musical instrument, Zappa casually calls The World’s Greatest Sinner, “the world’s worst movie.” Zappa would later make the world’s worst movie, the unwatchable dreck known as 200 Motels.

The World’s Greatest Sinner failed to gain any wide distribution. For decades the film was the stuff of legend with rough bootlegs being passed around. That started to change with its initial airing on Turner Classic Movies – you can now purchase the film on iTunes. I first heard about it on a list compiled by Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps where they ranked it their favorite film. Carey continued to work as a character actor in TV and films until his death in 1994, though he never completed another film as a director. He did work on directing Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena, but the film was never completed and it has been said that the footage is unwatchable. Regardless, Carey has morphed into a full-blown cult movie icon. The Timothy Carey Experience is a regularly updated fan site dedicated to the legendary character actor.

As is the case with many no-budget, Z-grade films from the ‘60s, The World’s Greatest Sinner can be rough around the edges. The film does avoid the Z-grade pratfalls of padding the running time with stock footage to hit the 90-minute mark, running a tight 77-minutes. Even though Carey has worked with some of the greatest filmmakers in history, his work as a director varies from borderline incompetence to borderline brilliance. Even though the film isn’t the work of a cinema virtuoso, it’s an unusual, brave, and uncompromising work. Like its star, writer, and director,The World’s Greatest Sinner is truly one of a kind.

– Sean Mulvihill, “Reelin’ and Rockin’ – The World’s Greatest Sinner: A True Cult Film”; FanBoyNation.com, May 30, 2014

The World's Greatest Sinner

Quote of the Week

THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (1963)

Music like the worst nightmare the Cramps ever had.

Timothy Carey – the charismatically malevolent “heavy” of The Killing, The Wild One, Paths of Glory, and East of Eden – single-handedly made this film between 1960 and 1963 in and around the town of El Monte, outside Los Angeles. Its plot centers on forty-year-old Clarence, who quits his job at an insurance company so that he can don the mantle of a rock star and run for public office as God. Carey’s portrayal of a rock star in a gold suit backed by a ragtag Mexican band is so fantastically bizarre that it puts Salvador Dali (Carey’s idol) to shame. During his main performance, which is sour and atonal, Carey falls to his knees and screams, “Please! Please! Please!” (Without ever having seen or heard of James Brown!)

The World’s Greatest Sinner isn’t a music movie per se, but its soundtrack stands out. For the background music, Carey hired a young, unproven local odd-ball, Frank Zappa, to compose a full orchestral score. Their association was short-lived, however. Appearing on the Steve Allen show playing a bicycle, Zappa made disparaging remarks about the film that earned Carey’s lifelong enmity.  (Still, they both made cameo appearances in the MonkeesHead.) Although this crude but uniquely imaginative undertaking was ignored by major distributors when it first came out, history has heaped kudos on The World’s Greatest Sinner – and on Carey for his bravery, wit, and vision. Fans, take note: Still alive, Carey makes occasional film and TV appearances. He also pops up at showings of his films at revival houses around L.A. In early 1991, he was completing a stage play, The Insect Trainer, about a postal worker killed by a fart.

Art Fein, from Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Movies by Marshall Crenshaw (HarperPerennial, 1994)

The World's Greatest Sinner