Here is the Devil himself to explain his plans for frustrated insurance salesman Clarence Hilliard (Timothy Carey), who has a quiet life with his wife (Betty Rowland) and two kids (and horse, and Great Dane), along with his goodnatured gardener Alonzo (Gil Barreto). He might seem like an ordinary man, but the Devil sees great potential in him, and plants the seeds of unrest in his mind, so the next day he goes in to work, he announces to his staff that insurance is useless, and they should all take the day off; anyone who does call up asking for their services is told they don't need them. His boss is outraged at this, and fires Clarence on the spot, but he doesn't care, he has decided that he is tired of God calling the shots - heck, he can be God if he wants.
Timothy Carey was not your usual movie star, he was a highly eccentric character actor who had a habit of being fired from the films he made for his bizarre behaviour, which included a predilection for going off the script to make up his personal spin on his material. Among his celebrity fans were John Cassavetes (who cast him in his own idiosyncratic features) and Elvis Presley (who saw to it that Carey appeared in his final movie), although there were those who were admirers until they actually worked with him. There was no doubt he had a certain presence, fully adept at essaying the role of the social menace and intimidating everyone from Marlon Brando to The Monkees, and his cult following progresses the further his films are seen.
The World's Greatest Sinner was his magnum opus, a self-directed tale of megalomania; he would direct one other film, adapted from footage of a prospective sitcom idea that never came to fruition because it was confounding in its weirdness, but that has been hardly seen anywhere. This enjoyed wider distribution, though that was not saying much, a work that Carey had toiled over for three years, shooting when he had the money available, and even then barely released on the grindhouse circuit, yet those who did catch it would never forget it. A wild melange of musings over the Almighty and the lead character's bad behaviour, it became a requested title among fans of Frank Zappa, who Carey had hired to compose the music.
Zappa, if anything, is even more of a cult figure than Carey, and his appearance as a guest on The Steve Allen Show to plug this movie is a much-watched clip, not that his director was happy as he thought Zappa was denigrating his masterpiece, and they fell out. That soundtrack consists of orchestral music, but more vitally, the songs Hilliard sings when he decides to become a rock star to spread his word; this occurs in the first half (he becomes a politician in the second), and sees the star vibrating his way across the stage and grabbed at by screaming, hysterical fans as his band, including a lady on saxophone, play up a storm behind him. It's safe to say the only way Carey could achieve that kind of adulation would be to manufacture it himself, which is what he did, but he had more on his mind than celebrity and sending up politics and the society that encourages snake oil salesmen on a huge scale, he wanted to challenge God Himself.
To that end, Clarence changes his name to God Hilliard, sticks a black goatee to his chin and means to be elected to the Presidency of the United States, telling huge rallies (of stock footage) in feverish speeches that he promises each citizen will live eternally on Earth under his guidance. But Carey's presentation was so downright peculiar that it was difficult to know how to approach all of this, with such images as the preaching Hilliard revealed to be standing on bags of fertiliser, or keeping the take that saw a fly land on Carey's face during a quiet moment of sincerity, or the bits where he seduces his female followers, ranging from a fourteen-year-old girl (obviously an adult actress) to a little old lady (whom he snogs passionately). He even attacks the child playing his daughter, knocking her to the floor when she tries to make him see sense. In truth, this was so ramshackle that it was difficult to draw any reasonable conclusions from it, impossible to tell from the ending whether Carey was a believer in God or an atheist, or more pertinently an inspired genius or hopeless madman. Or even if The World's Greatest Sinner was one big joke only he was in on.