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World's Greatest Sinner, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Timothy Carey is God. Literally."
5 stars

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."

Shot on the cheap over the course of three years in the downmarket sections of L.A., the movie tracks the journey of Clarence Hilliard (Carey), an insurance salesman who bugs out and starts his own political-spiritual movement. Clarence promises his followers that they can become God, or "superhuman beings," and soon takes to calling himself God Hilliard. He riles up the youth by spreading his message via spasmodic rockabilly (which made Lux Interior of the Cramps a fan of the film for life), flailing on his guitar and then yowling "Please, please, please, please...TAKE...MY...HAND!" as the crowd goes nuts. Maynard James Keenan, eat your heart out.

This beautifully overwrought and seamy DIY masterpiece (John Cassavetes famously said it packed "the brilliance of Eisenstein") is, first and foremost, a glowing calling card for one of cinema's true sui generis animals. Carey may be familiar to Stanley Kubrick fans for his indelible turns in The Killing and Paths of Glory; he was a notorious scene-stealer and general wild man who inspired awe and revulsion in his directors and co-stars in roughly equal measure. In The World's Greatest Sinner he is front and center, the man, the force, dominating every frame and soaking the very celluloid with his passion and hipster strangeness. Laughing, weeping, bellowing, preaching, murmuring seductively to retired women and 14-year-old girls no matter what Carey does, he does it to the max. I've long suspected that Nicolas Cage took a long look at Carey's work before embarking on his own oddball career.

Cosmetically, TWGS is a rise-and-fall piece about a man's hubris; at one point God Hilliard even sticks a pin in a host he nabbed from a church, leading to a great Carey rant: "BREAD! IT'S JUST BREAD! MOTHER! YOUR PRAYERS WERE FOR NOTHING!" What saves this from being a Jack T. Chick tract on film, though, is Carey's sardonic and defiantly off-kilter cascade of ideas and genuine command of mood and tone, despite the movie's lurching from goofball comedy to despairing tragedy. The scenes of God Hilliard conferring with his trusted assistants (one of whom is Satan) in shadowy rooms scoop The Godfather by a neat decade. Though the movie has been both reviled and lionized for its oddness, it's pretty mainstream compared to some of Carey's unrealized projects, like Tweet's Ladies of Pasadena, his intended follow-up to TWGS. The movie uses standard shots and narrative beats, but sneaks its anarchy in through a side door.

Scored by a young Frank Zappa (who later churlishly called Carey's labor of love "the world's worst movie") and partially shot by future cult director Ray Dennis Steckler, TWGS may well be the epitome of psychotronic filmmaking. Since Carey died in 1994, his son Romeo has curated his memory and work, and the movie is available directly from Romeo's website ( on videocassette. Believe me, it's worth dusting off your VCR to catch an incomparable actor in full effect (he wrote, directed, produced, and distributed the thing himself).

I used to think that Charles Laughton's "Night of the Hunter" was the greatest example of an actor-turned-director who only directed one film. But Timothy Carey sure gives Laughton a run for his money.

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originally posted: 08/25/08 02:39:48
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User Comments

10/25/08 brian Badly acted, nonsensically improvised, with crappy editing. A real train wreck. 1 stars
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  01-Jun-1962 (NR)



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