Synopsis by Mark Deming
Character actor and cult hero Timothy Carey wrote, produced, and directed this one-of-a-kind parade of the unusual, in which Carey stars as Clarence Hilliard, a seemingly content insurance salesman who undergoes a remarkable transformation. Hilliard, bored with his job and certain fate has bigger things in store for him, begins telling customers that insurance is pointless, which leads to him being fired. Hilliard then declares that "There's only one God, and that's Man," and with the help of his loyal gardener, Alonzo (Gil Barreto), forms the Eternal Man party and throws his hat into the political arena. To attract attention to his crusade, Hilliard learns to play guitar (well, sort of), hires a rock & roll band, and stages frenetic shows in which he throws himself about with a frantic abandon like a cross between Gene Vincent and James Brown. Hilliard drops the name "Clarence" and proclaims himself "God," and begins attracting a fanatical legion of followers. A mysterious political kingmaker offers his services to Hilliard, and "God" soon finds himself a serious contender for the office of President of the United States. Growing crazed with his own power, Hilliard tells his followers that they are "super human beings" (one who does not live up to Hilliard's high standards is forced to commit suicide), seduces both 70-year-old grandmothers and 14-year-old groupies, and tells potential voters that if elected, he can make all people millionaires and bring eternal life to those who follow him. Hilliard's long-neglected wife and children are taken aback by Clarence's transformation, urging him to turn his back on his blasphemous crusade and return to the Catholic faith of his earlier days. Facing a crisis of conscience, Hilliard challenges the Supreme Being to prove its existence. Shot on a shoestring budget over a period of four years, The World's Greatest Sinner is, if anything, even more bizarre than a recounting of its plot would lead you to expect, and has inspired a surprisingly large fan following considering the fact the film never received a nationwide release (Carey chose to distribute it himself). Frank Zappa, who was 22 when the film was released, composed the musical score and wrote the title song ("As a sinner he's a winner/ Honey, he's no beginner"); noted voice-over artist Paul Frees narrates; and Ray Dennis Steckler (who later developed a cult following of his own for The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies) was one of the cameramen.
Catholicism, cult, gardener, God, insurance-agent, political-leader, power, religion, President