Ah, he's the world's greatest sinner.
I said, the world's greatest sinner.
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.
The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962)
Producer/Director/Screenplay/Star: Timothy Carey
Voice of Satan: Paul Frees
Cinematography: Frank Grande, Robert Shelfow, Ray Dennis Steckler, Ove H. Sehested
Voice of Satan: Paul Frees
Music: Frank Zappa
Film Editing: Carl Mahakian, Lee Strosnider
I am SO HAPPY I live in a world where Timothy Carey’s film
The World’s Greatest Sinner exists.
(And it is Timothy Carey’s film completely: in an act of almost absurd auteurism, Carey wrote, directed, produced, starred and even distributed the flick all by himself!)
The film’s not easy to get a hold of, but if you are at all interested in The Cinema of Weirdness (a very broad catch-all phrase, I’ll admit),
finding a copy, and watching it all the way through is an absolute necessity—
like a Muslim’s taking the trek to Mecca.
(And I feel the same way about Otto Preminger’s Skidoo… but more
about that some other time…)
recommending The World’s Greatest Sinner is like recommending drugs--
You’re not going to say to your mom or priest, “Hey, you simply must try some of this fine Congolese hash,” are you?
About The World’s Greatest Sinner, Morlock Jeff, at the incredible Movie Morlocks site, writes,
“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.”
Much in the same way you’d only recommend some psychedelic drug (“It’s made
from the sweat of Panamanian tree frogs!”)
to someone in the know,
You can only recommend The World’s Greatest Sinner to someone already with an interest in The Cinema of Weirdness ,
especially such roughhewn flicks by folks like Alejandro Jodorowsky,
John Waters, Lucio Fulci (Cat in the Brain, I’m looking at you!), Ed Wood, Herschell Gordon Lewis (especially Just For the Hell of It), Ray Dennis Steckler (who was one of the cinematographers on The World’s Greatest Sinner--which might not be saying much), Al Adamson (Satan’s Sadists rules!), et al—
meaning that if you like non-mainstream flicks
that often show more passion (for filmmaking) than sense,
often manic fever dreams
that have ZERO budget,
you’ll dig The World’s Greatest Sinner.
Because, really, the damned thing’s a deranged home movie!
But what sort of home movie is about a life-insurance salesman who
(under the guidance of Satan in the guise of a snake--voiced by
legendary vocal artist Paul Frees)
chucks it all away to become a preacher,
telling everyone that they can become a
and live forever?
To reach a broader audience, Carey’s character, Clarence—later “God”—Hilliard starts using rock &/or roll to pack ’em in--
It’s these scenes the movie is best remembered for,
with Carey in a gold suit,
As the late, great (and sorely missed) Lux Interior
once said about Carey:
"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!"
But when political power beckons, God Hilliard dumps music like a hot potato, smashes his guitar, and starts his presidential run.
Meanwhile, he’s seducing grannies and jailbait alike--and Satan narrates/drives God on, maniacally cackling, “Go! Go!”
[Which of course made me think of the geezers croaking “Go, baby, GO!” from the intro to the amazing Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! (now I just gotta get around to finish watching Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens…)
But I digress…]
It looks like God is going to win, when an appearance of his little
moppet/brat of a daughter ruins everything by talking about Jebus ‘n’
Whereupon, God challenges GOD to prove His existence, and…
Of The World’s Greatest Sinner’s editing, Morlock Jeff calls it
“haphazard, resulting in occasional incoherence that is closer to stream-of-consciousness musings than a conventional linear approach to narrative.”
So if you’re hung up on bourgeois filmmaking techniques,
The World’s Greatest Sinner is almost unwatchable.
But that’s not the point.
Now here’s the thing: yes, Carey’s made God Hilliard the hero, but
Carey’s also gotta smash him down. Because that’s what Carey believes!
The film’s religious ending is not a goof, I think--Carey’s sincere,
and that is The World’s Greatest Sinner’s ultimate strength:
No matter the flaws
this film is honest
and a work from an artist’s heart. A labor of love.
And batshit crazy.
Therefore, a must-see.
Of course, it helps if you’re familiar with the film’s writer/director/producer/star Timothy Carey—
(and hopefully a fan of this wild man, as well)
By the time he finished The World’s Greatest Sinner in 1962 (although by all accounts, Carey kept tinkering with the flick until his death in 1994),
Carey had already appeared in The Wild One, East of Eden, One-Eyed Jacks (in one scene, after punching out Carey, Brando growls at him, “Get up, you tub of guts!”),
The Killing and Paths of Glory, among others.
Later he was a Cassavettes semi-regular, made a cameo in Head,
did a bunch of TV that Otto Maddox (love the Hawaii Five-O post!) would probably know about,
got stomped by Tim McIntire in Fast-Walking (and I swear, I’ll do a write up about that movie soon!),
turned down the part of Luca Brasi in The Godfather (now that would be an alternate universe movie I want to see! Especially if it was the version where our beloved Ernest Borgnine was cast as Don Corleone—
and if Richard Jordan had been cast as Sonny? Perfection!),
was awesome in John Flynn’s excellent, underrated and DVD-MIA The Outfit.
Then, of course, there’s
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
If you like Carey’s slovenly, insouciant performances, moving like so much lazy lava, then The World’s Greatest Sinner is a must-see.
As Erich of the excellent Acidemic site writes,
Carey “appears exhausted in some scenes and exhausted to the point of elation in others; the rest of the time he's... just perfect.”
So why’d Carey make this flick?
He once said,
"I was tired of seeing movies that were supposedly controversial. So I
wanted to do something that was really controversial."
Controversial? The film’s almost seditious! Its themes are still charged and polarizing and it blows my mind to think of seeing this in 1962: Wow!
To find out more about Tim Carey, his works, his life, check out son
(According to the site, Romeo offers VHS tapes of The World’s Greatest Sinner for $24.95.)
Speaking of false prophets, the photo above is of the Reverend Gene Scott, a crazed televangelist from Clockwork Orange County—
(Dr. Scott broadcast out of SoCal station KDOC, where Rebecca De Mornay’s dad, Wally George wielded his right-wing venom.)
(Jeez, dudes like Wally and Morton Downey are downright tame compared to the feral babble that passes for political discourse these days!)
(BTW, I was once in the mob of yahoos that comprised Wally George’s in-studio audience--my friends and I snuck on as “The Young Republicans Club of Pomona College,” wearing jackets and ties, and shouted and hollered and acted stupid—just like you’re supposed to when you’re on TV.)
I was introduced to Reverend Gene Scott’s crazed rantings by a trio of
dope fiends living in my freshman dorm: I’m so glad I found these
guys! In addition to the drugs, it was the crazy ideas, the anarchy they generated.
(After my first semester, two of them were kicked out--to be replaced
by another rambunctious and fired up pothead anarchist/rugby player,
as well as future screenwriter Jim Taylor.)
The Trio had cut a hole in their wall and put a TV in there, and would
spend late nights with the Reverend Gene ranting away, screaming at his non-existent band to “Play It Again!”
This man was so incredible, Werner Herzog even made a documentary about him.
Getting back to Sinner:
If you’re not quite sure
if you’re willing to go all the way,
Check out these two comprehensive posts
from the always stellar
Monster Movie Music site
(bookmark it and put it on your dashboard,
the site’s that good!)
Music collage and multiple frame grabs
from The World’s Greatest Sinner
And now for
something completely sinful! (Thank Cthulhu for the petrochemical industry! Meow!)
Dark Rising (Andrew Cymek, 2007)
1 year ago