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The World's Greatest Sinner

The World's Greatest Sinner(1962)


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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

For most casual movie viewers, character actor Timothy Carey was probably best known for his bit roles in a number of classic films. He was the sharpshooter that gunned down a race horse in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956), the sobbing solider sentenced to death in Paths of Glory (1957), a beer-throwing biker in The Wild One (1953). It's only upon closer inspection that one gets a true sense of the fascinating imprint Carey left on film. Carey may have spent most of his life playing small parts in big movies, but his insistence on taking those moments and making them stand out from the other supporting parts is awe-inspiring. He was larger-than-life, both in appearance and in personality, and once you noticed him in a film he would quickly become hard to forget. He was such a notorious scene-stealer that he often clashed with some of his more famous co-stars.

Stories abound in Hollywood about his famous confrontations on film sets; Kirk Douglas reportedly hated his guts. Carey allegedly got beat up by Richard Widmark on the set of The Last Wagon (1956) and was practically choked to death by Seymour Cassel during the filming of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). He was kicked in the ribs by Karl Malden and stabbed with a pen by Marlon Brando during the filming of One-Eyed Jacks (1961). On top of this, Carey would simply do anything to secure a role. He dressed up in costume and scaled the walls at 20th-Century-Fox for a part in Prince Valiant (1954). He reportedly knocked on Billy Wilder's trailer door during the filming of Ace in the Hole (1951), causing Wilder to cut himself while shaving, and still had the nerve to ask the famous director for a job (Ace in the Hole was his first official screen credit). Carey himself claimed he was "probably fired more than any other actor in Hollywood."

By the late fifties, Carey had grown tired of making his way through the Hollywood system and longed to make his own picture, one that he could have complete control over, and would showcase his talent in a big way. It wasn't long before Carey began work on what would become his unacknowledged "masterpiece" in 1958 - The World's Greatest Sinner. This would be the ultimate Carey vehicle - a controversial tale that incorporated a variety of polarizing topics, religion, politics, corruption, stardom, rock and roll, life and death; all at a time that was just prior to the great social and cultural upheavals of the 1960's.

At the center of The World's Greatest Sinner is Clarence Hilliard (Carey), an insurance salesman and family man who has a vision one day and realizes his job is meaningless so he promptly quits. Instead he dedicates himself to spreading his newfound philosophy of life - to live without fear. After watching a rockabilly band perform, he decides to take up guitar with the mission of becoming a rock star. Under the advice of Satan himself (in the form of a snake) and the assistance of his gardener (Gil Barreto), Clarence begins to rally people in the streets, encouraging them to join his newly formed "Eternal Man Party" where he promises they will be become "superhuman beings" and will never die. He seduces elderly women for money, applies a fake goatee to his face, and starts calling himself "God". He begins performing in concert before hundreds of newly acquired fans in a gold lame suit, gyrating and thrashing on stage, as he urges the masses to "Please! Please! Please!!" His followers begin wearing armbands with the letter "F" written on them (for "follower") and word spreads about the self-made messiah. As "God", he becomes a national phenomenon and is persuaded to run as an independent for President of the United States. By this time, however, "God" has become a power-hungry dictator, having sexual relations with underage girls, and engaging in all kinds of immoral behavior as a direct challenge to the real "God," who soon appears for a final showdown.

The World's Greatest Sinner is a weird, wild, one-of-a-kind film that never really had an official theatrical release. Outside of some initial showings in 1962, the film hasn't been seen in years and has acquired an enormous cult reputation based on the comments of audience members who were lucky enough to have seen it. Carey himself was incredibly proud of the film and if any movie qualifies as a true "underground" film, this is it. From the bizarre camera angles to the jump cuts to the manic performance of Carey as Clarence "God" Hilliard, the actor was involved in every aspect of The World's Greatest Sinner: producing, writing, directing, editing, and of course, casting himself in the lead role. The earnings made from his prior film work as well as his frequent guest appearances on television helped fund the production, and he was able to find additional financing (including an investment of $25,000 from M.A. Ripps, the producer of another Carey film, Bayou , a.k.a. Poor White Trash, 1957). Carey recruited friends and family to help him make The World's Greatest Sinner, and one of those he hired was a young musician by the name of Frank Zappa, who penned the theme song and composed the music score. Legendary cult filmmaker Ray Dennis Steckler (The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, 1964) also served as one of the cinematographers; it was one of his first jobs in Hollywood.

Carey handled the entire distribution of The World's Greatest Sinner himself, bringing the prints to theaters that would dare screen it (his son Romeo carries on the tradition to this day). Although his film never outgrew its underground status, Carey continued to work on The World's Greatest Sinner for the remainder of his life, shooting new scenes and re-editing footage right up to his death in 1994. TCM will be showing Carey's 1965 re-edit of The World's Greatest Sinner which also went by the title of The Cult of the World's Greatest Sinner.

Producer: Timothy Carey
Director: Timothy Carey
Screenplay: Timothy Carey
Cinematography: Frank Grande, Robert Shelfow, Ray Dennis Steckler, Ove H. Sehested
Music: Frank Zappa
Film Editing: Carl Mahakian, Lee Strosnider
Cast: Timothy Carey (Clarence Hilliard), Gil Barreto (Alonzo), Betty Rowland (Edna Hilliard), James Farley (the Devil), Gail Griffin (Betty Hilliard), Grace De Carolis (mother), Gitta Maynard (elderly woman), Gene Pollock (priest), Whitey Jent (guitar player), Carolina Samario (Nate), Victor Floming (Office boss), Ann Josephs (secretary), Jenny Sanches (old lady in church).

by Millie de Chirico

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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

Exploitation film director Ray Dennis Steckler (The Thrill Killers, 1964) served as one of the cinematographers on The World's Greatest Sinner and was rumored to have organized the riot sequence.

Steckler also claims that Carey threw a boa constrictor at him while he was in a closet re-loading film for the shoot.

In an interview with Alex de Laszlo for Uno Mas Magazine in 1966, Steckler recalled, "I was living in Tim's garage with two dogs, a boxer named Caesar and some poor old German shepherd...He did run out of money and I stayed with him for as long as I could. We'd shoot a little here and there, and then all of a sudden it became years. He was always good at buying a lot of lunches, he'd always pick up the tab...I think he was kinda hurt that I didn't finish the movie." Steckler further adds, "Tim Carey was having an adventure - whatever happened, he thought it was great. As far as the script goes, it never made sense at the beginning when I read it. He didn't care about that cause he just threw the pages away anyway."

It was reported that director Edgar G. Ulmer (Detour, 1945) was involved in the production of The World's Greatest Sinner at some point.

In an interview for Psychotronic Magazine, Carey revealed how he met and hired his film's musical composer. "When I was working with Debbie Reynolds for the second time (in The Second Time Around, a 1961 western comedy) at 20th Century Fox, a fellow came up to me and complimented me on my acting. He said he was a composer and the guy he came with, his next-door neighbor, played the guitar. I said, 'What's your name?' He said, 'Frank Zappa'. So I said, 'OK, I have something for you. We have no music for The World's Greatest Sinner. If you can supply the orchestra and a place to tape it, you have the job'. And that same time he was on the Steve Allen Show. That's where our friendship stopped. Steve asked him what films he did. He said, 'I did The World's Greatest Sinner, the world's worst film and all the actors were from skid row.' It wasn't true."

The single that Frank Zappa and his band worked on for the film was titled "The World's Greatest Sinner/How's Your Bird", and was recorded under the name Baby Ray and The Ferns. It was released in March, 1963. "Baby Ray" was performed by vocalist Ray Collins. "How's Your Bird" was a phrase that Steve Allen used to say on TV. In 1983, Rhino/Del Fi Records included both sides on Zappa's "Rare Meat" EP.

Zappa was in his early twenties when he wrote the score for The World's Greatest Sinner.

Barreto claims that Carey changed a lot during the filming of The World's Greatest Sinner, and that he was actually becoming the character he portrayed. Barreto remembers, "At first, I only had a few lines, but Tim was so nasty to the bit players that they started quitting the picture. As they disappeared, Tim kept giving me their lines, until I had a big supporting role. Tim became God Hilliard, and we really had God in person on the set. It was very difficult to be with Tim at times."

Most of the The World's Greatest Sinner was shot in El Monte and Long Beach, California from 1958 to 1962.

The World's Greatest Sinner was mostly self-financed from earnings made from Carey's previous films, as well as his frequent guest appearances on television. Carey also received an investment of $25,000 from M.A. Ripps, the producer of another Carey film, Bayou (a.k.a. Poor White Trash, 1957).

Gil Barreto (who plays the gardener in the film) claimed that Carey "kept on shooting until about 1965 and stopped, because he ran out of money and [Ripps] wouldn't give him any more."

Carey rented the Vista Theater in Hollywood to screen The World's Greatest Sinner. Carey reportedly fired a gun above the heads of the audience before the screening started. He even wore his gold lame suit and went on talk shows in an effort to drum up publicity.

Although The World's Greatest Sinner was officially "released" in 1962, Carey continued re-editing and shooting new scenes for it for the rest of his life. According to an article on Carey by Sam McAbee for Cashiers du Cinemart, Carey said "I'm changing SINNER every second! I took my last cut of the show last year. That's after years and years! I'm not afraid to turn it around. Some people say, 'Oh, this is boring now. That I'm losing my touch 'cause I'm doing too much.' But a creative person can do it a thousand times, five thousand times, and still enjoy it because he's creating each time. You wine and dine something! You don't say, 'OK, it's gonna take me two weeks and that's it.' It's something that's going to be with you for the rest of your life."

On the set of Elvis Presley's last film, Change of Habit (1969), the King reportedly approached Carey (who also had a small part in the film) and asked him for a copy of The World's Greatest Sinner after "hearing good things about it". Carey only had four prints of the film and couldn't give him a copy.

Carey originally hoped to complete The World's Greatest Sinner in time for release on Election Day, 1961.

John Cassavetes once said that The World's Greatest Sinner had "the brilliance of Eisenstein". Carey used his quote to help promote his film but spelled Cassavetes's name wrong in the process.

Carey, on The World's Greatest Sinner: "I was tired of seeing movies that were supposedly controversial. So I wanted to do something that was really controversial."

by Millie de Chirico

Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2004
Psychotronic Video #6, 1990
FilmFax, issue #56 May/June 1996
Rolling Stone Magazine

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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

Timothy Agoglia Carey was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1929, to a close-knit Italian family.

Carey was discharged from the Marine Corps for lying about his age (he was only 15 when he joined).

Carey attended drama school on the GI Bill.

Carey's acting career began in the 1950s with small roles in Hellgate (1952), White Witch Doctor (1953), Crime Wave (1954) and East of Eden (1955) starring James Dean (Carey played the small but memorable role as the bouncer in the brothel where Jo Van Fleet - James Dean's mother in the film - works).

Carey's agent, Walter Kohner, helped him secure a bit role in The Wild One (1953).

Carey also did extra work in films such as Across the Wide Missouri (1951) with Clark Gable and Ace in the Hole (1951) starring Kirk Douglas.

In Across the Wide Missouri, Carey had a small part playing a corpse in the water with two arrows in his back. Apparently the water was so cold that Carey kept moving, and director William Wellman finally called out "Keep that jerk still, he's supposed to be dead."

Carey allegedly dressed up like James Mason's character - Sir Black - in Prince Valiant (1954) and climbed the fence at 20th-Century-Fox in order to attract attention and win a part in the costume drama.

For the famous execution scene in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957), Carey's character was supposed to be silent but he made the most of the part by screaming and crying out as he was walking to his death. Kubrick liked it so much he asked the sound crew to start recording and it ended up making the final cut.

Carey met his wife in Germany while filming Paths of Glory.

One film critic from New York called Carey, "Kubrick's good luck charm".

Carey would frequently pull stunts to get noticed: he climbed into a trunk of a car to be thrown from the Santa Monica Pier and shot himself with blanks just to get attention.

While filming Paths of Glory in Germany, Carey faked his own kidnapping and wrote a ransom note for himself, causing a huge stir with the Munich media and local police. Carey was found bound and gagged in a ditch not far from the set. Carey eventually confessed that the whole thing was a hoax.

On the topic of his on-set wars with other actors, Carey has stated, "I wasn't trying to upstage anyone; I just wanted to do it for the good of the show."

Carey was well known for his bizarre sense of humor and odd practical jokes. Director John Cassavetes - a longtime friend and supporter of Carey - allegedly went over to Carey's house one day, and the actor convinced him to put on a dog attack suit. He then let three Rottweilers loose on Cassavetes while Carey yelled words of encouragement from the next room saying, "It's not you they hate it's the suit!"

Martin Scorsese reportedly put up $3,000 in launch money for Carey to produce his play The Insect Trainer. The play revolved around a character named Guasti, "a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant who befriends a cockroach. He becomes convicted of murder after farting so powerfully that a woman falls from her chair, hits her head on the floor and dies."

Of his play, Carey commented, "I always thought, if you really want to become a really good actor, you've got to be able to fart in public."

Carey briefly appeared as the demented Lord High N' Low in The Monkees movie, Head (1968).

In the Cassavetes film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976), Seymour Cassel reportedly got so carried away during a scene where he was supposed to grab Carey by the collar to rough him up that he ended up grabbing him by the neck instead. Carey said he would break a bottle over Cassel's head if it happened again. Cassavetes (who was also close friends with Cassel throughout his career) told Carey he should punch Cassel in the nose if he messed with him again.

It was rumored that Quentin Tarantino, a huge fan of Carey, asked the actor to play the role of Joe the gang leader in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Carey was asked to do a rehearsal of a scene but his participation was nixed by Harvey Keitel (an executive producer on the film). Soon after Lawrence Tierney called Carey and said, "I can't believe it, those assholes gave me your part!"

Francis Ford Coppola was said to have wanted Carey for the part of Luca Brasi in The Godfather (1972) but Carey turned down the part to film his TV pilot Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena. The role went to Lenny Montana instead.

Cassavetes held a fundraiser for Carey's Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena. During the production of Tweet's, Cassavetes wrote a part for Carey for his latest film, Minnie & Moskowitz (1971).

Timothy Carey passed away on May 11th, 1994 the birthday of his hero, Salvador Dali. He suffered from a stroke (his fourth in less than six years).

On his film career, Carey once commented, "The truth is, I never really cared about conventional success. I was probably fired more than any other actor in Hollywood."

by Millie de Chirico

Film Comment, Jan/Feb 2004
Psychotronic Video #6, 1990
FilmFax, issue #56 May/June 1996
Rolling Stone Magazine

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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

"...despite its technical shortcomings, and despite too many passages that simply stall out - moments during which it feels as if Carey himself had lost focus - The World's Greatest Sinner is more often enjoyable than not...there's more to the film than its camp fizz, namely real passion. It may be terrible, but at least it's not dishonest."
- Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly

"You won't believe his performances. 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, lead singer of The Cramps

"A curious experimental film that predates the spirituality and rock 'n' roll messiah mumbo-jumbo of Tommy by over a decade...Dopey, poorly acted, scripted with a dull pencil, and outdated, the film is still a little bit of fun."
- TV Guide

"All independent filmmakers and cult-flick fans must bow down to the low-rent majesty that is Timothy Agoglia Carey's The World's Greatest Sinner."

"The World's Greatest Sinner is an amazing, love-it-or-hate-it kind of film."
filmmaker Gerry Fialka

"Iconic character actor and inimitable personality Timothy Carey's eccentrically flawed, indescribably lowbrow, and madly egocentric, yet indelible satire, The World's Greatest Sinner, is a commendable exposition on opportunism, moral bankruptcy, and idolatry as a bored insurance salesman, Clarence Hilliard, re-invents himself as a youth attuned, hip-gyrating pop star..."
- Strictly Film School

"..possibly the World's Greatest Movie!...this is the one film that not only SAYS IT ALL, but also manages to deliver the real truth about rock & roll and its place in a wildly undulating universe... the thrust of the film becomes a bizarre probe into the soul of man...The movie is not only recommended, it's required."
- Miriam Linna, Kicks

"Far ahead of its time, The World's Greatest Sinner is a disturbing reflection on religion, politics, and fascism; the Manson-like aspects of Hilliard's character are all too apparent to today's audiences. Carey is supremely creepy in his role as the greasy Hilliard; almost every line is delivered straight from the diaphragm, but filtered through a bottle of bourbon first (actually, subtitles would be handy at times) as he slurs his way through at full-cry. Words like "offbeat" are far too mild for this disconcertingly sleazy and base idiot-savant oddity that I cannot recommend highly enough for fans of the bizarre."
- Jerry Renshaw, The Austin Chronicle

"Run, do not walk, to check out this movie!...This is seriously whacked stuff, folks, and Carey pulls off one of the most intense, overwrought performances of all time (putting novice scenery-chewers like Dennis Hopper to shame)...Though lacking in little things like coherency, Carey packs this volatile tale with venom toward modern politics, the media, dried-up religion, and the entire sorry state of the human race. It's even narrated by The Devil, represented by a snake!...this is a work of warped genius."
- Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema

"A three-year labor of . . . love? . . . completed in 1962, barely released then and rarely shown since, Sinner is a work of demented genius, DIY crudity crossed with unfettered ambition to produce a film so audaciously subversive and bone-deep weird it's almost intoxicating, All the King's Men as re-imagined by Jerry Lee Lewis and Edward D. Wood Jr."
- Andy Markowitz

"This bizarre, homemade labor of blood is the work of one of cinema's most criminally underused and underappreciated character actors, Timothy Carey. An extended parody of religion, sex, rock & roll, and politics (and by extension, America herself), The World's Greatest Sinner is a flawed but fascinating piece."
- Fred Beldin, All Movie Guide

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

Clarence (Timothy Carey): "I wouldn't even bother taking out an insurance policy on a funeral deal. Because when you die, your body starts to stink."

Clarence (talking to his horse Rex): "Don't you go to sleep on me Rex. Your master's gonna be somebody. I'm gonna make people live long. I'm gonna put something in life. I'm gonna make life be eternal. I'm gonna do it Rex. I know you're not laughing at me Rex...Some day people will never die."

Clarence (to the Gardener): "How would you like a job following me?"
Gardener (Gil Barreto): "Where?"
Clarence: "To eternal life!"
Gardener: "Where is that?"
Clarence: "That's right here on earth. I have a plan. A plan that nobody's had before that's gonna make me a god."

Clarence (preaching on the street): "There goes my boss that fired me last week. Look at him, all he cares about is his insurance."

Clarence: "Let them laugh at me, I don't care!"

Clarence: "I'm not a preacher and I'm not a drunk I'm just a politician!"

"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." (From the Theme Song to The World's Greatest Sinner)

Compiled by Millie de Chirico

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