Europa Cinema > 22:15


Timothy Carey
Introduced by

Michael Pogorzelski (Academy Film Archive)


Monday 26/06/2023


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

It was a feature film produced, directed by and starring Timothy Carey… I did the score and the rock & roll theme song for it. The premise of the film was: a man believes he’s God, doubts himself, breaks into a church, steals the communion bread, sticks a pin in it to find out whether or not it will in fact bleed, it bleeds, and he realizes he’s not God. How’s that for a great plot?

Frank Zappa interview by Kurt Loder, “Rolling Stone”, February 1988

Made for $100,000  and  shot  over a period of three years around Carey’s home in El Monte, it has the same low-budget charm and mania of Oscar Micheaux and Ed Wood at their best. Carey gives his eccentricity free rein in his only stint as a director, and the result is a kind of psychotronic Night of the Hunter. The film opens with the Devil (in the form of a snake) introducing the sleepy-eyed, mush-mouthed protagonist, Clarence Hilliard (Carey). Hilliard is dissatisfied with his job as an insurance salesman and informs his horse he wants to “make life eternal.” Stumbling onto an anarchic rock’n’ roll show (complete with footage edited in upside down), he is thunderstruck. He gets a guitar, rants along to a rock song in his bedroom and asks his wife, “Why can’t I be a god?”… After seducing an elderly woman, he leads his first rally, whose highlights include an Elvis/James Brown-style quake-and-shake dance routine… Later he meets with an advisor who convinces him to give up rock for politics. Hilliard smashes his guitar and runs for president…
The World’s Greatest Sinner’s title song is a raucous R&R tune – an early work by Frank Zappa. In one of his first professional music jobs, Zappa scored the film with a junior college orchestra, and the juxtaposition of R&R and avant-classical themes prefigures his output with the Mothers of Invention by several years. Despite copping Hilliard’s goatee for his own trademark look, Zappa disparaged The World’s Greatest Sinner when he appeared on The Steve Allen Show, calling it “the world’s worst film.” Nevertheless “Daily Variety” hailed it as a masterpiece, and John Cassavetes said it had “the brilliance of Eisenstein.”

Alan Licht, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Rediscovering Timothy Carey’s The World’s Greatest Sinner, “Film Comment”, n. 40, January-February 2004

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Timothy Carey. F.: Edgar G. Ulmer, Robert Shelfow, Frank Grande. M.: Carl Mahakian. Mus.: Frank Zappa. Int.: Timothy Carey (Clarence Hilliard), Gil Baretto (Alonzo), Betty Rowland (Edna Hilliard), James Farley (Devil), Gail Griffen (Betty Hilliard), Grace De Carolis (la madre), Gitta Maynard (la donna anziana), Gene Pollock (il prete), Whitey Jent (il chitarrista), Carolina Samario (Nate). Prod.: Timothy Carey per Frenzy Productions, Inc. DCP. Bn.