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insurance man“Why can’t I be God?” That’s what Clarence Hillier— played by the brilliant Timothy Carey, who also wrote and directed— asks his wife before throwing himself into the fire pit of rock & roll in the Brooklyn-native’s elusive 1962 cult classic, The World’s Greatest Sinner.

Clarence was already showing signs of eccentricity before this proclamation as he inexplicably had a pet horse (a Mr. Ed reference?) on his tiny patch of suburban land. A visit to a wild and crazy mixed race nightclub where a band was whipping the kids into screaming and dancing hysteria seems to be the catalyst for ending his status quo suburban life. Crudely edited scenes show Clarence renouncing his job as an insurance salesman, joining a rock & roll band and for some reason accepting a snake from a woman with a heavy Spanish accent. She told him “It will bring you lots of luck.” Maybe she laid some Santeria on him because from that point on, Clarence changes his name to “God” and becomes “The World’s Greatest Sinner.”

“God” will stop at nothing to raise money and recruit new members for his new religion ,which has “No Death” as one of the credos— a credo, which, incidentally, got him fired from his insurance salesman job. In God Hillier’s world “everyone is a super human being” and it is not a sin to make out with an 80-year-old woman, have a tryst with a 14-year-old girl or steal communion host from a Catholic church. As he becomes more fervent, God Hillier’srock god movement bears more than a passing resemblance to hysteria of the rise of Hitler; his followers even wear armbands. Choppy editing, whacky acting and a sometimes-dreamy soundtrack (scored by a young Frank Zappa under the alias “Bobby Ray & the Ferns”) made this reviewer shout “amen”!! Rating: 4 1/2 hysterical rants Lisanne McTernan

Swan ponders the eternal question: where to begin with Timothy Carey? His uncredited appearance in Billy Wilder’s beyond-brilliant Ace In The Hole (1951)? His likewise anonymous role in Andre De Toth’s superb Crime Wave (1954)? His career-making performance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing? Each has many merits, as does the still astounding The World’s Greatest Sinner as singular, irreducible example of Brooklyn-born film making as Allen Baron’s Blast of Silence (1961) or Ralph Bakshi’s Heavy Traffic (1973). I’m not entirely sure where ya’ll can acquire a copy of TWGS, & even that not a good one (thus the quality of the screen captures) but, speaking as Transportation Editor, try looking… underground.

Looking for more of Lisanne’s Brooklyn movie reviews? Find them here:

All Dolled Up (2005)
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971)
Teenage Gang Debs

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