Quote of the Week

Timothy Agoglia Carey was born Timothy William Carey in 1924 [sic; actually 1929]. And it was all uphill from there. A hulk at 6-foot-4, the man was born to play every weird, menacing background figure any movie ever needed. Often, he was called upon to do just that. Carey’s anarchistic and sometimes violent sense of whimsy wouldn’t allow him to just stand there behind the big names and glower. Too much kinetic energy bound up; it got released. […]

A polarizing figure both onscreen and off, Carey could be intimidating by just saying “Hello.” His reputation for unpredictability kept him from being cast in big movies (Spartacus, The Grifters, Reservoir DogsTarantino dedicated the script to him) and got him into trouble with others – he and Elia Kazan almost came to blows on East of Eden (the actual fight is apocryphal); Richard Widmark and Karl Malden both did their own improvising during fight scenes with Carey in The Last Wagon and One-Eyed Jacks respectively, making sure that punches and kicks were not pulled. Also on One-Eyed Jacks, Brando got his revenge for the beer gag [in The Wild One] by stabbing Carey with a pen.

But those who were friends with him, good friends, were friends until the end. Longtime buddy John Cassavetes, who cast Carey in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, considered him to be a genius on a par with Sergei Eisenstein. Carey’s loyalty to Cassavetes led him to turn down the role of Luca Brazzi in The Godfather. […]

In Head, he played Lord High ‘n’ Low, the representation of everything evil in marketing, who tried to get the Monkees to sell their sweat and nail clippings. In Fast-Walking, he played the towering lunatic inmate Bullet. And in Beach Blanket Bingo, he played South Dakota Slim, who straps Linda Evans to a buzzsaw. Maybe you don’t know the name (even I have to confess that for years I confused him with both Timothy Leary and Professor Irwin Corey), but you know who he is. The face’ll get ya every time.

Mike Watt, “The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962)”, Fervid Filmmaking: 66 Cult Pictures of Vision, Verve and No Self-Restraint (McFarland and Company, 2013; Kindle Edition)

Fast-Walking

 

Quote of the Week

Whether looming over the strangely invertebrate James Dean as the muscle of the local brothel in East of Eden or buying the farm in a whisker-quick saloon shoot-out with Marlon Brando in One-Eyed Jacks, the disheveled, vertiginous Timothy Carey performed, through much of his career, as the kind of thespian rarity whose flickering presence, even when bereft of a fleshed-out “character,” struck a loud, long-resonating note in the frequently seam-riddled “seamless narratives” it embellished. Like a portal into a reality hidden from view by scopophobic hysteria, Carey materialized from an alternate universe devoid of heroes and legible story lines.

Available accounts and filmographies of Carey’s early career typify his roles in exploitation pictures as “oozing malevolence,” citing creepy gangster turns in Andre de Toth‘s Crime Wave and Harold D. Schuster‘s Finger Man, as well as uncredited parts in Billy Wilder’s The Big Carnival [aka Ace in the Hole – ed.] and William A. Wellman‘s Across the Wide Missouri. In 1953’s The Wild One, he got to spray Brando in the face with a shaken-up carbonated beverage – some say beer, others soda pop. He was physically attacked by Richard Widmark during the filming of The Last Wagon in 1956, and pummeled by Karl Malden on the set of One-Eyed Jacks, or so the legends go; according to some of Carey’s enthusiasts, his parts got progressively bigger in B-circuit pictures for a time, then shrank as his uninhibited behavior off-camera, and scene-swiping on, earned him the poisonous sobriquet of being “difficult.”

Only the sharpest and restive of “great” directors, and the most cynically astute hacks, recognized Carey’s innate ability to enlarge a piece of cinema into something beyond cinema. Anecdotal evidence reflects how often even those who perceived Carey’s ungovernable grandeur were either prevented from casting him, or themselves provoked by his antics into tossing him out of a picture.

He was, in effect, too much of what he was, too formidably present to evaporate into a peripheral presence; both his imposing physicality and his avid wish to smuggle something living into something simulated got him scotched from films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Grifters; the insecurity of Harvey Keitel purportedly scrapped a  major role in Reservoir Dogs; Carey, by his own account, sabotaged his own way out of The Godfather and Godfather II.

Gary Indiana, “Timothy Carey: The Refusal of the Repressed,” from Dead Flowers (Participant Press/VoxPopuli, 2011)

East of Eden (1955)

 

Quote of the Week

“It’s amazing how people get so afraid and weak. I was up for a big part in Bonnie and Clyde, but Arthur Penn took one look at me and almost fainted in my arms. He’d heard that I’d gotten into a punch-out with Elia Kazan on East of Eden. Which wasn’t true. But because of the garbled story and Penn’s weakness, I didn’t get the part. The same with Stephen Frears years later on The Grifters – weakness. The same with Harvey Keitel’s weakness on Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino brought me in to read. He’d done a terrific script with my name on the top – inspiration by Timothy Carey. Harvey Keitel didn’t want me on the show. He was afraid – I could tell when I walked in. He had the right to say yea or nay to any actor. Larry Tierney got the part. Larry’s a good friend of mine, and he called me up later and kind of apologized.”

– “Cracked Actor,” Film Comment Jan/Feb 2004; interview conducted in 1992 by Grover Lewis