GOD HILLIARD FOR PRESIDENT!

Timothy Carey and the Devil (seen as a snake) in The Worlds Greatest Sinner

Timothy Carey and the Devil (seen as a snake) in The World's Greatest Sinner

You might not know the name but you know the face. One of the most eccentric character actors in American cinema, he has had the rare distinction of working with everyone from James Dean and Elia Kazan (in East of Eden) to Marlon Brando (on The Wild One & One-Eyed Jacks) to Stanley Kubrick (on The Killing & Paths of Glory) to John Cassavetes (on Minnie and Moskowitz & The Killing of a Chinese Bookie) to The Monkees (on their feature debut Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson) to Mr. T, Bill Maher and Gary Busey in D.C. Cab…and I’m leaving out Clark Gable (Across the Wide Missouri), Francis the Talking Mule (Francis in the Navy), director Curtis Harrington (What’s the Matter With Helen?) and god knows who else. We’re talking about Timothy Carey and probably his greatest role is the one you’ve never seen – THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER. But that’s about to change when TCM broadcasts the official network premiere of it on October 24th at 2 am.  

Written, directed and starring Timothy Carey, THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER truly qualifies as an underground movie in more ways than one. Not only did it never receive an official theatrical release, making it practically impossible to see unless it was at one-off screenings organized by Carey, but the film defies practically every convention of commercial filmmaking, inventing its own film language as it goes along. Is it a Dadaist prank? (Carey was a huge fan of Salvador Dali) Is it an allegory about American culture and society? Is it a Beat Generation rejection of conformity? Or is it some kind of crackpot masterpiece about self-actualization? It’s probably all of the above and then some.

Lobbycard for The Worlds Greatest Sinner

Lobbycard for The World's Greatest Sinner

Here’s the basic concept of THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER in a nutshell. An insurance agent named Clarence Hilliard suddenly has a revelation at work and discards his nine-to-five existence for streetcorner sermonizing. But he doesn’t preach the gospel. Instead he espouses his own spiritual beliefs after making a pact with the Devil (the voice of Paul Frees in the guise of a snake) - “There’s only one God, and that’s Man.” Soon, he changes his name to God and begins to attract a following of new converts through his live rockabilly performances and impassioned rabble-rousing. His promise to make everyone a “superhuman being” brings him into the political arena where he runs as an independent for President of the United States. As his power and influence grows, so does his delusion that he is invincible. He seduces 80-year-old women and 14-year-old girls alike in his blatant flaunting of taboos, incites riots, and eventually challenges the real God to a showdown.

Elvis Presley, watch your back!

Elvis Presley, watch your back!

As audacious as it sounds, the execution is decidedly un-Hollywood in presentation. The film, featuring a cast of non-professional actors with few exceptions, has a home movie feel to it, with scenes shot in Carey’s home, his neighborhood, in and around Los Angeles and on cheap interior, low-budget sets. The sound recording is inferior and some of the dialogue is hard to hear, the cinematography (by Ray Dennis Steckler of The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living… fame, among others) is wildly uneven from poorly lit scenes to an obvious fondness for the odd detail,  and the editing is haphazard, resulting in occasional incoherence that is closer to stream-of-consciousness musings than a conventional linear approach to narrative.   Frank Zappa

The musical segments, in particular, are especially memorable because Carey recruited a young, unknown-at-the-time Frank Zappa to compose the score – and it’s one reason for the movie’s cult fame. Zappa would later dismiss the movie, according to Carey, stating that THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER was “the world’s worst film and all the actors were from skid row.” But the same accusations would later be leveled at the films of John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Multiple Maniacs) which shares so many sensibilities and renegade filmmaking tactics with Carey’s opus.

Timothy Carey in Stanley Kubricks Paths of Glory

Timothy Carey in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory

Of course, the main reason to see THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER is to observe Timothy Carey with the brakes removed. He’s mesmerizing in every scene but subtlety is not his speciality. Some critics have accused him of being a total ham and his scene chewing has an excessive, bigger-than-life quality. But just try to tear your eyes away from the screen.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glWCXY-fo8M]

Watch him shake like a bowl of radioactive jello as his Elvis-like alter ego dressed in gold lamé (There’s a little James Brown thrown in as well – “Please! Please! Please! Please! Please! Take My Hand!” –  and maybe even some Tiny Tim). See him transform before your eyes into a hell and brimstone evangelist or play it sweet and low-key as an insurance salesman who’s just “seen the light.”

James Dean & Timothy Carey in East of Eden

James Dean & Timothy Carey in East of Eden

Carey has always had his own “style” of acting and when you start to consider all of the parts he’s played, he stands out in every movie, even in films where a director like Stanley Kubrick tightly controls every detail right down to an actor’s performance. Among some of my favorite Carey performances are his scary whorehouse bouncer in East of Eden, the shellshocked, emotionally damaged soldier facing execution in Paths of Glory, the creepy gangster assigned to watch over hostage Phyllis Kirk in Andre de Toth’s Crime Wave, one of the hell-raising motorcycle gang members in The Wild One and his racetrack marksman in The Killing. Now you can add God Hilliard in THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER to your list of favorite Carey roles.

Timothy Carey & Sterling Hayden in The Killing

Timothy Carey & Sterling Hayden in The Killing

If you want to know more about Carey, there are countless web sites about him on the internet but I recommend you start with his son Romeo Carey’s site – Absolute Films

http://www.absolutefilms.net/

Timothy Carey & Ben Gazzara in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

Timothy Carey & Ben Gazzara in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

28 Responses GOD HILLIARD FOR PRESIDENT!
Posted By JoseM : September 20, 2008 3:37 pm

TCM is the best!!!!!

Posted By JoseM : September 20, 2008 3:37 pm

TCM is the best!!!!!

Posted By Medusa : September 20, 2008 9:25 pm

When I began to really discover films as a kid, I especially *loved* Carey in “Mermaids of Tiburon” and “Convicts 4″ which I used to watch over and over and over when it ran on the Million Dollar Movie (for a whole week at a time) on L.A. television Ch. 9 KHJ.

Can’t wait to see this next month! Wow!

Great write-up!

Posted By Medusa : September 20, 2008 9:25 pm

When I began to really discover films as a kid, I especially *loved* Carey in “Mermaids of Tiburon” and “Convicts 4″ which I used to watch over and over and over when it ran on the Million Dollar Movie (for a whole week at a time) on L.A. television Ch. 9 KHJ.

Can’t wait to see this next month! Wow!

Great write-up!

Posted By Jack O. Lantern : September 21, 2008 6:16 pm

Carey is the original Mr. Mumbles. Brando and Dean can’t come close to his arcane mutterings. I especially love the way he delivers dialogue through clinched teeth. I sometimes think Nicholas Cage is trying to channel Timothy Carey but it’s always too studied, too effected. Yeah, Carey was affected too…with some kind of crazy hipster genius. Or maybe he really was certifiable and was lucky enough to pass as some new kind of method actor. Whatever. The evidence is in the films. Even in those small parts, he was a guaranteed scene stealer. My Carey favorites are Bayou (aka Poor White Trash) and the doctor in Unwed Mother but I would kill to see Convicts Four and the 1957 Chain of Evidence.

Posted By Jack O. Lantern : September 21, 2008 6:16 pm

Carey is the original Mr. Mumbles. Brando and Dean can’t come close to his arcane mutterings. I especially love the way he delivers dialogue through clinched teeth. I sometimes think Nicholas Cage is trying to channel Timothy Carey but it’s always too studied, too effected. Yeah, Carey was affected too…with some kind of crazy hipster genius. Or maybe he really was certifiable and was lucky enough to pass as some new kind of method actor. Whatever. The evidence is in the films. Even in those small parts, he was a guaranteed scene stealer. My Carey favorites are Bayou (aka Poor White Trash) and the doctor in Unwed Mother but I would kill to see Convicts Four and the 1957 Chain of Evidence.

Posted By Frank “Zappa” Lehn : September 22, 2008 7:55 pm

Wowie zowie! A photo of Frank Zappa – Idol of My Youth – doing something shocking! Frank pooh-poohed his involvement this film every chance he got. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Posted By Frank “Zappa” Lehn : September 22, 2008 7:55 pm

Wowie zowie! A photo of Frank Zappa – Idol of My Youth – doing something shocking! Frank pooh-poohed his involvement this film every chance he got. I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : September 23, 2008 9:13 am

Check out this in-depth look at Timothy Carey’s bizarro career as a film director – http://www.absolutefilms.net/tim_carey/FilmFax2004.html

Posted By Harvey Chartrand : September 23, 2008 9:13 am

Check out this in-depth look at Timothy Carey’s bizarro career as a film director – http://www.absolutefilms.net/tim_carey/FilmFax2004.html

Posted By John Jordan : September 24, 2008 7:47 pm

This is why Turner Classic Movies is the number 1 movie station–bar none!

Posted By John Jordan : September 24, 2008 7:47 pm

This is why Turner Classic Movies is the number 1 movie station–bar none!

Posted By Will : October 25, 2008 11:45 am

That was the weirdest movie I’ve ever seen. Fantastic!

Posted By Will : October 25, 2008 11:45 am

That was the weirdest movie I’ve ever seen. Fantastic!

Posted By Strayhorn : October 28, 2008 11:58 pm

Killa! A fav of mine. I screened this last December in Athens.
Tim’s son Romeo Carey runs a site devoted to his poppa. He sells al kindsa weird short films, docs and feature length films made by Timothy Carey. Look it up.
Carey was also really great in The Outfit with Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker,Etc.
Keep shining a light TCM!
Todd – Athens, Ga

Posted By Strayhorn : October 28, 2008 11:58 pm

Killa! A fav of mine. I screened this last December in Athens.
Tim’s son Romeo Carey runs a site devoted to his poppa. He sells al kindsa weird short films, docs and feature length films made by Timothy Carey. Look it up.
Carey was also really great in The Outfit with Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker,Etc.
Keep shining a light TCM!
Todd – Athens, Ga

Posted By Medusa : October 29, 2008 11:33 am

This movie now goes onto my list of creepy religious-themed films that end up with religion being real and manifesting in scary ways — like in “The Rapture”. Pretty daring stuff for Carey to do! Crazy great!

Posted By Medusa : October 29, 2008 11:33 am

This movie now goes onto my list of creepy religious-themed films that end up with religion being real and manifesting in scary ways — like in “The Rapture”. Pretty daring stuff for Carey to do! Crazy great!

Posted By Cecil Doyle : November 10, 2008 8:55 pm

Cannot thank TCM enough for finally allowing me the chance to view this film. First became aware of it during the Eighties but it wasn’t the easiest thing to find. This now ranks up there alongside my all-time favorite oddball cinematic experiences.

Posted By Cecil Doyle : November 10, 2008 8:55 pm

Cannot thank TCM enough for finally allowing me the chance to view this film. First became aware of it during the Eighties but it wasn’t the easiest thing to find. This now ranks up there alongside my all-time favorite oddball cinematic experiences.

Posted By Cecil Doyle : November 10, 2008 9:02 pm

…also THE perfect movie to air during a Presidential Election. Brilliant programming!!!

Posted By Cecil Doyle : November 10, 2008 9:02 pm

…also THE perfect movie to air during a Presidential Election. Brilliant programming!!!

Posted By Sandy Guy Schoenfeld : October 7, 2010 8:11 am

I saw this film at the Presidio Theater in S.F. back when they had genuine “underground” midnight shows every Saturday (showed my own film there, though since moved to photography and songwriting (being legendary blues artist Howlin’ Wolf and Arthur Big Boy Crudup ‘s collaborative close friend

Been searching for this film every now and then for a long time, but had forgotten the name of it. For some “miraculous” reason, I put “God Hilliard” in a Google search and found this site, having always thought it’s name was something else.

Thanks for posting. Now I can prove I was not hallucinating that night when I describe the film, or will just get it when possible. It’s great and with a very funny and weird ending.

It gives a good a look to things to (have) come and then some, i.e. the obsessive religious obsession and pretension that dumbs people down just being near it. What was coming is here, and this flick is a great look at the follower mentality of the duopoly…

… just as the film “They Live” (which the Matrix ripped off + higher tech, as Lucas’ Star Wars did same total rip-off of uncredited “The New Gods” comics ) was to the economic realities of an archaic predatory economic system raping the masses and the globe and depending on fomenting war to function (as Eisenhower warned after the faked U2 shoot down was staged to discredit him and ruin his Summit plans, and extend the cold war profits.

This film is well worth watching.

Posted By Sandy Guy Schoenfeld : October 7, 2010 8:11 am

I saw this film at the Presidio Theater in S.F. back when they had genuine “underground” midnight shows every Saturday (showed my own film there, though since moved to photography and songwriting (being legendary blues artist Howlin’ Wolf and Arthur Big Boy Crudup ‘s collaborative close friend

Been searching for this film every now and then for a long time, but had forgotten the name of it. For some “miraculous” reason, I put “God Hilliard” in a Google search and found this site, having always thought it’s name was something else.

Thanks for posting. Now I can prove I was not hallucinating that night when I describe the film, or will just get it when possible. It’s great and with a very funny and weird ending.

It gives a good a look to things to (have) come and then some, i.e. the obsessive religious obsession and pretension that dumbs people down just being near it. What was coming is here, and this flick is a great look at the follower mentality of the duopoly…

… just as the film “They Live” (which the Matrix ripped off + higher tech, as Lucas’ Star Wars did same total rip-off of uncredited “The New Gods” comics ) was to the economic realities of an archaic predatory economic system raping the masses and the globe and depending on fomenting war to function (as Eisenhower warned after the faked U2 shoot down was staged to discredit him and ruin his Summit plans, and extend the cold war profits.

This film is well worth watching.

Posted By “THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER” « the pyramid beach roadhouse : September 5, 2011 5:15 pm

[...] by JEFF STAFFORD [...]

Posted By “THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER” « the pyramid beach roadhouse : September 5, 2011 5:15 pm

[...] by JEFF STAFFORD [...]

Posted By Marisa : November 28, 2011 1:03 am

Really excellent write-up! I invite everyone to check out my blog, The Timothy Carey Experience: http://thetimothycareyexperience.wordpress.com/

Also, I was a special guest on a recent episode of The Projection Booth podcast about this very film: http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2011/11/episode-37-world-greatest-sinner.html

Posted By Marisa : November 28, 2011 1:03 am

Really excellent write-up! I invite everyone to check out my blog, The Timothy Carey Experience: http://thetimothycareyexperience.wordpress.com/

Also, I was a special guest on a recent episode of The Projection Booth podcast about this very film: http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2011/11/episode-37-world-greatest-sinner.html

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