THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER (1964)

(VOD) I didn’t so much seek out THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER as had it forced upon me. When I moved to Chicago, one of the first video stores I walked into was BLAST OFF VIDEO, centered in Lakeview. (If you’re unfamiliar with Chicago, Lakeview contains Wrigleyville, home of the Cubs.) It was a tiny cult video store — an off-shoot of an Atlanta-based video store of the same name — whose front window was covered with spliced BLOCKBUSTER membership cards. (They’d give you several free rentals if you’d hand yours over. Unsurprisingly, you’d also find my card plastered to the glass.)

The shop was helmed by a man named Sam, who didn’t mind me shooting the shit with him for an hour or so twice a week. Sam was far more knowledgable about foreign and cult films than I was, and I’d listen to him rant about how RESERVOIR DOGS was a rip-off of CITY ON FIRE (which isn’t too far off the mark, although I wouldn’t say ‘rip-off’) or how Robert Mitchum really directed NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (which, probably). One of the first films he recommended to me was THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER.

Some might summarize THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER as a (very) low-rent version of Billy Wilder’s A FACE IN THE CROWD, but that’s selling it short. Timothy Carey (best known for appearing in THE KILLING), who wrote, directed, and acted in this passion project, made something uniquely his own. SINNER is extremely rough around the edges — they clearly only had one take for most scenes, lines often don’t land the way they should, it’s full of abrupt and halting edits, and it’s shot like a student film. However, all of that works in its favor. There’s a crazy alchemy to all of it that dovetails with the theme of a salaryman-turned-politician trying to ingratiate himself to the populace while questioning his faith and purpose in the process, all backed by a Frank Zappa soundtrack. It’s a whirlwind of a work, and one that Sam vociferously believed in.

Sadly, BLAST OFF VIDEO is no longer. They were priced out of Lakeview years ago and moved well outside of my radius, then they closed up shop in Chicago all together. However, when I was recently searching for them to see if their Atlanta store happened to be around, I stumbled upon a Chicago Tribune article about the shop, and in it they note how Sam finagled their copy of THE WORLD’S GREATEST SINNER “by tracking down the director’s son and asking him for a tape”. Godspeed, Sam, wherever you are.

“I don’t even care if they reject my book. I’ll do another book, and another one! And besides, a guy can always become a comedian, right?”