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The World's Greatest Sinner (1962)

| Drama | June 1962 (USA)
A bored insurance salesman quits his job to go into politics. He first starts preaching about how man is greater than he thinks and that man can live forever. He ends up forming his own ... See full summary »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Clarence Hilliard
Gil Barreto ...
Alonzo (as Gil Baretto)
Betty Rowland ...
Edna Hilliard
James Farley ...
Gail Griffin ...
Betty Hilliard (as Gail Griffen)
Tyde Rule ...
Gene Koziol ...
Dayna Madison ...
Follower (as Dana Madison)
Gitta Maynard ...
Elderly Woman
Betty Sturm ...
Marty Prisco ...
Grace De Carolis ...
Carolina Samario ...
George F. Carey ...


A bored insurance salesman quits his job to go into politics. He first starts preaching about how man is greater than he thinks and that man can live forever. He ends up forming his own political party, "The Eternal Man" party. He begins to be referred to as "God". Then he starts having doubts about the eternalness of man. Written by J. Picagli <mirjen@ibm.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

June 1962 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$90,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


| (Technicolor)
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Did You Know?


In a March 4, 1963 Steve Allen Show appearance, Frank Zappa reported that the film was shot in El Monte, California. See more »


When Clarence/God destroys his guitar (after 39 min). See more »


Clarence Hilliard: Let's be different. Let's not hate anyone.
See more »


Referenced in The Cockettes (2002) See more »


World's Greatest Sinner
Written by Frank Zappa
Performed by Baby Ray & The Ferns
(opening credits music)
See more »

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User Reviews

This film demands to be seen.
27 February 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

So much has been written about The World's Greatest Sinner that it is hard to separate it from its own mythical standing.

Timothy Carey portrays Clarence Hilliard, an insurance salesman who abruptly quits his job in a spectacular fashion. Sitting at home, contemplating his life, he wanders the town and comes across a Mexican rock and roll band. Intrigued by the spectacle and its effect on the gathered audience, he begins formulating his future. With help from his gardener, he puts on a fake goatee and carries a guitar with him as he stands on street corners, preaching his message of "every man is his own god" and soon finds himself with an ever-growing audience eager to hear more. He changes his name to "GOD" and begins his ascent into the world of politics.

TWGS was made at a time when independent films made without the financing of a studio simply didn't exist. There were no kickstarter campaigns, film schools, underground distribution networks, etc. The film pre-dated the exploitation boom of the mid to late sixties and existed in a universe where so-called underground films were still called "art" films and screened alongside nudie pictures and European imports. Carey wrote the screenplay in 1956 and spent the next 5 years gathering funds and shooting haphazardly whenever he could afford to. Many of the people involved with the movie never received payment for their involvement (most notably a then-unknown Frank Zappa, who wrote and performed the title song and score, and later badmouthed the film on The Steve Allen show in 1963, calling it "the world's worst movie.") Tim Carey originally wanted another director along the lines of John Cassavetes or Stanley Kubrick to direct the movie, but realizing that he could not afford to hire anyone, took to directing it himself. He also cut and edited the movie and handled all of the post-production work. He was never satisfied with the movie and continued editing it up until his death in 1994.

Carey never found a proper distributor for the movie and it was only screened a handful of times in 1963. A later cut of the film is the one that most people have seen, having floated around as a bootleg on VHS and later shown on TMC in 2008. This version had a color title sequence and the hand-colored ending sequence that Carey felt was integral to the film. His son, Romeo Carey owns the rights to the film and has stated that he will one day release the original director cut of the movie, but it still remains unviewed since its original screening.

Critics panned the movie unanimously, which is probably what made it impossible to find a distributor. It was called "vile", "anarchic", anti-religious, amateurish and just plain "stupid." John Cassavetes loved the movie however, calling it one of his favorites.

Nowadays, many agree with Cassavetes, who stated that the movie was just too ahead of its time to be understood by audiences of the early 60's. He may have been right, but as Romeo Carey pointed out, the movie was not ahead of its time, it was in fact a time capsule that captured a unique look at an America that was stuck between the rise of Elvis and the birth of Beatlemania. The country was getting over the Korean War and had yet to experience the polarization of Vietnam. Beatniks were about to become hippies and the "I Like Ike" republican era was giving way to Kennedy's comparatively liberal generation. If anything, TWGS is a documentary of an America in flux.

Critics of the time also scoffed at the notion that a rock and roll-styled punk would ever garner a religious following or ascend into the political machine with such ease. It wasn't long before people like Charles Manson and Jim Jones were recognized as the type of "rock star guru" that could influence, and even brainwash, their followers. The slogan "man is his own god" would become pervasive in a few short years, and groups like the Church of Satan and The Nation of Islam would loudly proclaim that same message. The irony was not lost on Carey himself, who insisted that the film was just as relevant in 1993 as it was in 1963.

For all of its faults, including poor editing, shoddy audio and subpar performances from some of the supporting cast, it still feels like a sort of autobiographical documentary- not quite out of step with A Hard Day's Night or D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back. And it goes without saying that Carey's performance in the title role is untouchable. Nobody but him could have pulled it off. It's like watching a train wreck slowly unfold; you're pretty sure how it's all going to end but you can't stop watching while it happens.

I'm not usually so pompous when describing movies, but TWGS is a movie that opened my eyes to something I can't quite put my finger on.

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