The cable TV event of the century--more or less--happened this weekend with the 2 AM screening on TCM of Timothy Carey's more or less forgotten classic, THE WORLD'S GREATEST SINNER! (1962) If you don't know about it, imagine Kazan's A FACE IN THE CROWD if it was put together by the cross-eyed stepchild of John Cassavetes and Ed Wood, with a soundtrack by a pre-famous Frank Zappa and narration by Paul Frees (as the devil)!
Carey plays an insurance salesman who has an off camera spiritual awakening and becomes convinced he's God and everyone is immortal or will be if they follow him. He shoots up the ladder of success by becoming a rock star and the blasphemy escalates until his ultimate cosmic comeuppance, or doesn't it?
SINNER is truly disjointed and cacophonous, with no connecting tissue between the studio set-bound "sound-engineered" scenes and the silent hand-held outdoors (with Paul Frees narrating as the devil) and badly miked crowd shots, making it herk and jerk around like so much indie drive in cinema of the age (i.e. H.G. Lewis). Carey is hilarious and even touching as a sort of a slovenly Brooklyn-accented mumbler. He's like the big brother Phredo/Fred to the young Brando/James Deans of better films; like look Mikey, I made me a pitcha too, right? Not as pretty and fancy as yours Mikey, but it's fa ME!
Of course we're here to see Carey shake and rattle like a Santeria shaman, and that's what he does. He's also sweet and fatherly at times--nervously maniacal at others. His truck with deviltry has the same desperate ring as it does for Harvey Keitel in BAD LIEUTENANT or Captain Cutshaw in THE NINTH CONFIGURATION, men who rant and rage against God the way I rage at the stupidity of car commercials.
A weird-talking method maniac in general, Carey here he has the weary look of someone who's not only starring in but directing a low budget film, and that's much more difficult than you would think (you're basically the whole crew). He appears exhausted in some scenes and exhausted to the point of elation in others; the rest of the time he's... just perfect, gamboling into brilliant oration ala Willie Stark in ALL THE KINGS MEN. Joy aboundeth, as does surprise bits of tenderness: he loves his horse and regards all humans with a sleepy naturalistic affection. I especially like how he calls everybody "deah"--as in "No, my deah, you don't need insurance"--and there's plenty of time for him to nuzzle with his wife and menagerie (he also has a snake and a big Marmaduke of a dog).
His new religion is never quite fleshed out (just how is he going to make everyone immortal?) but it's worth playing along, humoring his conceits, just to watch him make out with old rich ladies for their money and-- most of all--to shake his flabby frame on stage during his frenzied rock orations: half in a voodoo trance, half Corman-esque beatnik (his assistant urges him to glue on a fake goatee because it makes him look "better") channeling ELMER GANTRY, he's dynamite.
Hmmm, come to think of it - Robert Duvall produced THE APOSTLE and there's some similarity. I totally support actors who want to get their megalomaniacal desire to be adored and adulated out onscreen and have the balls to go for it all the way, rather than sublimating and subtextualizing and cuddling it down like Kevins Spacey and Costner and of course Robin Williams.
That's the difference between the real nuts and those who just pursue nuttiness the way a man with no mouth pursues a glass of water. If it all boils down to love, it's the difference between those who love you and those who want you to love them. Tim Carey wants to love you through this film, if he had his way he'd pull you into the celluloid and start making out with you. I think he French kisses just about everyone and everything in this movie, but he does it out of love and so it's pure. Do you hear me, Kevins?? PURE!!!!! Those who want to live forever must do so through othehs. As Carey puts it in the film "you are all Gods, and ya gonna live foreva..."
I can't watch the whole mess in one sitting, but I believe he means it.