Timothy Carey



ANDREW MALE bows down to the world’s greatest sinner! – a cracked actor who became an insanely visionary director

 When Timothy Carey died of a stroke in 1993, he was

working on two very personal projects.  The first, entitled The Insect Trainer, concerned the trials and tribulations of a man imprisoned for killing a woman with his farts.  The, there was Tweet’s Ladies of Pasadena – his masterpiece.  In it, the 68-year-old actor/director would play a gardener who tended the grounds of an old ladies’ knitting group.  The ladies had but one goal: to clothe all naked animals.

Carey had also made plans for the premier of Tweet’s.  He would, he insisted, make just one print of the film and screen it just one, the film running directly from the projector in to a shredder.  On the way out, the specially-invited members of the audience would each be handed a small celluloid ribbon, a touching memento from one of the oddest film-makers and actors who ever lived.

Imagine an actor with the wild, manic stare of a skid-row John Turturro, the gangly rebel stance of Jerry lee Lewis and the acting presence of a secure-ward Nicholas Cage.  Even then you’re still not close to the

twisted screen presence of the great Tim Carey.

Apart from the fact that he was born in the characterless wastelands of El Monte, California in 1925, little is known about Carey’s background.  In fact, he has to be one of the most poorly-catalogued stars in the whole of Hollywood literature, with no sources able to provide an accurate biography of his early years.  It would appear that he moved through the same beat-scene Hollywood world as Marlon Brando and James Dean, given that his first significant roles were as Chino, the incoherent biker in The Wild One, and Joe, the incoherent bouncer in the brothel in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden (1955).

Right from the start, Carey’s unique approach to acting – frowning and mumbling like a dope addict plotting to overthrow the world – got him into trouble.  His key scene in The Wild One (1954) was his unscripted decision to shake up a can of beer and squirt it in
Brando’s face.  His performance in East of Eden so incensed Elia

Kazan that the director physically attacked Carey on set and then re-dubbed all of Tim’s surreal mutterings.
However, Brando eventually patched it up with Carey and cast him as the oddball Howard Tetley in the portly star’s directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks (1961).  By the end of filming, Brando was so impressed by Carey’s unique performance that he ended up stabbing him with a fountain pen.

Carey was certainly attracting the right kinds of people with such skewed antics.  In 1956, Stanley Kubrick gave Carey the role of racist horse-killer Nikki Arane

in The Killing and the court-martialled French private Ferol in Paths of Glory (1957).

They remained two of the most powerful, sinister and haunted performances in all of Kubrick’s films.

Yes, it’s once we stray off the path of conventional film-making and into the murky world of the B-movie that Carey’s true genius reveals itself.  Alongside junk cinema king Peter Graves, Tim Carey appeared in Harold Daniels’ Poor White Trash (1961) as Ulysses, a mean-eyed Cajun loon.  The film’s highlights include Carey performing the most disturbing inbred zydeco dance ever committed to celluloid, then attacking graves with a very big axe.

Yes, the real reason we’re here is Carey’s directorial debut, possibly the strangest film you’ll never get to see, and as subversive as any movie ever made.  When The World’s Greatest Sinner was first released in 1962, Hollywood Reporter hailed it as “an apparent waste of time and money with very limited commercial appeal.”

Drawing on his resources as producer, director, writer and main actor form 1959 to 1962, Carey’s film was clearly a helluva labour of love.  The World’s Greatest Sinner tells the story of Clarence Hilliard (Carey), a bored, middle-aged insurance agent who flips out and decides to start his own religion.  Renaming himself God, Hilliard sets up a rockabilly religio-political movement called The Eternal man party, recruits white-trash greasers to his fire’n’brimstone ‘Life is Hell’ doctrine and proclaims: “There’s only one God and that’s Man!” 

The action takes in Carey beating up his daughter, sleeping with a 14-year-old religious aide, and having sex with a 92-

year-old woman.  Narrated by the devil – in the form of a snake – and seemingly starring a cast of street drifters, what the film lacks in coherency, it makes up for in lunacy.  The score was produced by Frank Zappa, with a theme song that runs: “As a sinner he’s a winner/Honey, he’s no beginner/He’s rotten to the core/Daddy, you can’t say no more/He’s the world’s greatest sinner.” 

However, the outrage didn’t stop with the film itself.  When it premiered at the Wiltshire theatre in Fullerton, California, Carey got things going to firing a .38 pistol over the heads of the audience and instigating fist fights in the foyer.  The next screening resulted in a mass punch-up and another drive-in ‘premiere’ ended with punters ramming their cars into each other.  With just four prints in existence, the original negative destroyed and no legitimate video release, The World’s Greatest Sinner is almost impossible to see.  But it’s worth it. 

Don’t take our word for it.  When multi-talented actor/director John Cassavetes saw The World’s Greatest Sinner, he announced that Carey had “the brilliance of Eisenstein” and cast him in tow films, Minnie and Moskowitz (1971) and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976).  Carey put the quote onto his poster, credited it to “John Cassavetes”, and repaid the compliment in the only way he knew how.  One day, he invited Cassavettes over  to his house, made him wear a padded suit and set his attack dog on him, all the while screaming “It’s not you!  He just hates that suit!” 

Timmy Carey?  Approved!

  • Note Fact:: “THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER” was never released!
  • It was screened by Timothy Carey only on Rare occasions.
  • THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER’S 35 mm prints are primed for its first Release!

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