His noir work in 1957, however, was limited to a two-minute morsel in the Russell Rouse prison yarn House of Numbers. Star Jack Palance, himself a scary guy in most roles, looks positively intimidated by Carey in a scene in which they play San Quentin cellmates. Carey sets the mood by spitting a cigarette butt into the commode. He fidgets with a transistor radio in his pocket. With another weirdly concocted brogue (he is playing an inmate named Frenchy), he tells a story about beating another prisoner with his tray in the mess hall for trying to steal his milk. And then he offers with a warped grin, “You been to any other colleges? I have. I spent six years in Sing Sing and four years in Joliet. I’m taking a postgraduate course. This is my second time here.” The film was actually shot in San Quentin State Prison using real prisoners as extras, but no one in it – real or staged – played an inmate with such – er, conviction. House of Numbers is worth viewing just for Carey’s tiny but tasty part.
Today’s pic is another from Harold D. Schuster‘s Finger Man (1955). Murderous thug Lou Terpe has finally been brought down by the eponymous “finger man,” Casey Martin (Frank Lovejoy). Cornered and pummeled by Martin, Terpe’s tough-guy act drops and he becomes the sniveling coward he is.
“But just when you’re convinced he’s the ultimate thug,” writes Carl Steward in “Timothy Carey: Noir’s Wildest Card,” “Lovejoy surprises him in an alley and only has to whack him a few times to reduce him to a simpering boob. It’s classic Tim Carey, offering up an unanticipated left turn that stamps his performance as unforgettable.”
When you line up Carey’s noir work, it’s clear that the idiosyncratic touches he gives his minor characters truly set them apart. In the undervalued Allied Artists cheapie Finger Man (1955), Carey gets quite a bit more screen time… and steals the film from stars Frank Lovejoy and Forrest Tucker as crime boss Tucker’s right-hand goon Lou Terpe. (You have to wonder, did Carey think up his own character names, too?)
In this one, Tim’s still toking the smokes to great effect, but he also incorporates obsessive knuckle-cracking and seems a lot more sinister. He delights in groping women, rearranging their faces in back rooms, even killing them and stuffing them in trunks, as he eventually does to Lovejoy’s squeeze. But just when you’re convinced he’s the ultimate thug, Lovejoy surprises him in an alley and only has to whack him a few times to reduce him to a simpering boob. It’s classic Tim Carey, offering up an unanticipated left turn that stamps his performance as unforgettable.