Head Trips

Charlies Angels and The Worlds Greatest Sinner

Carey began acting in the early 1950s and lucked out with bit parts in films such as Crime Wave and East of Eden before securing a kind of immortality with the two Kubrick films. Although he would go on to appear in One-Eyed Jacks, Carey's subsequent run would have remained essentially unremarkable if John Cassavetes hadn't given him meaty supporting roles in Minnie and Moskowitz and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. While these two films along with the pair he made with Kubrick would be enough to sustain Carey's memory, the existence of The World's Greatest Sinner gives that memory a certain something extra. Carey embarked on the project in 1958, finishing it three years later. "I play an atheist who gets people's attention by playing music," he once said of his role. "I graduated from a rock & roller to a politician. . . . He ran for president with Godwritten on his cuffs. I played the part of God Hilliard. I had this cult." And then some—The World's Greatest Sinner has since gone on to accrue its own small following, and there are enough moments of touching weirdness in the film to explain why.

Carey plays an insurance salesman named Clarence Hilliard who becomes a rock & roll singer-cum-crusader whose wiggles, lamé suit and oil-slick hair are inspired by Elvis Presley and whose jive is an incoherent pastiche of street-corner huckster evangelism. ("You like a job following me?" "To where?" "To eternal life.") The dialogue, the acting, the cinematography, the editing and the sound are as crude as the story is nonsensical. The film is narrated by a stentorian-voiced boa constrictor, and the music is by Zappa (going by his last name only). Still, 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. Some of the pleasure is of the sort that fills magazines such as Psychotronic Video (Issue 6 has a nice rambling interview with Carey by Mike Murphy and Johnny Legend), but there's more to the film than its camp fizz, namely real passion. It may be terrible, but at least it's not dishonest.

Charlie's Angels was directed by McG; written by Ryan Rowe, Ed solomon and John August; produced by Leonard Goldberg, Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen; and stars Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Bill Murray. Now playing countywide; The World's Greatest Sinner! A Tribute to Timothy Carey. Now playing at the Egyptian Theater, Hollywood.

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