January 29, 2013

Oh, God! (1977)
Starring George Burns, John Denver, and Teri Garr

"You know, Voltaire may have had me pegged.  He said I was a comedian playing to an audience who's afraid to laugh."

Comments:   Every decade has a couple of comedies that could only have existed in that decade, and that can only be described as "light and fun."   They are around for a while, people like them because they are sweet and funny and innocent, and then they sort of fade away when a new decade comes along and America moves on to the next sweet gentle family friendly comedy.  

Oh, God! is a perfect example of a light fun comedy movie from the 70's that only could have existed in the 70's.

Mostly because it stars this guy

If you have never seen Oh, God before (and I am guessing that nobody under the age of 25 ever has) it is the story of a man named Jerry Landers.  

Jerry is nothing special.  He is just your average ordinary guy who works as the manager of a grocery store.  He has a couple of kids.  There is nothing even remotely remarkable about him.  He is just some guy who has a job.

Some would say that the haircut makes him unique, but I should point out that 80% of the world in 1977 had this exact same haircut.  Basically Jerry looked like everyone at the end of the 70's.

Well one day Jerry is just going around town, doing whatever he does at the grocery store, and something extraordinary happens.  All of a sudden God starts speaking to him.  

Like, directly speaking to him.

It turns out that God has a job for him.  


God has decided that he wants to pass along a message to the world.  He wants the people of the world to know that yes, God still cares about them.  And yes, He still loves them.  And yes, the world can work if they are willing to put in the effort.  He wants the people of the world to know that it is all up to them.

And for whatever reason, He has randomly chosen Jerry to be the one who is going to spread this message.

God instructing Jerry that he is going to be His new messenger

There really isn't much more to the storyline than that.  God comes down from Heaven, He picks out a messenger, and then the rest of the movie is Jerry trying to figure out A) if this old guy really is God, and B) how he can spread the word of God without coming off like a lunatic.

Oh yeah, and trying to convince his wife that he hasn't gone completely nuts.

Jerry and his long suffering wife, played by Teri Garr

Oh, God is one of those movies that I saw a ton of times when I was a kid.  It was always on TV in the early 80's.  And it was funny because it never had to be edited down for TV.  It was one of those rare movies that was light and innocent even for a PG movie, so when they showed it on TV they could actually show the entire movie.  It isn't profane or offensive or even edgy in the slightest.  It is mostly just George Burns firing off one liners and Teri Garr being exasperated, and John Denver trying his best to make everyone happy.

It is also the only movie role that John Denver ever had in his entire life.  Can you believe that?  He had never acted prior to this movie, he came in and he was absolutely perfect (and the movie was actually a pretty big hit), and then he never acted again.  

Don't ask me who decided that John Denver the folk singer would be the perfect choice to play Jerry Landers.  I can't even fathom how many actors must have turned this role down before they arrived at Denver.  But you watch the movie now and you realize he was absolutely perfect for it.  It kind of makes me sad to realize that he never acted in a movie again.


John Denver as Jerry Landers the everyman

Of course the big star of the movie is George Burns.  

He plays God and, as you would imagine, he plays a different kind of God than you would see in most movies.  In this movie God isn't stern at all, He is more of a vaudevillian.  Most of the movie is him discussing scripture and blowing off any questions about his existence with some sort of a one liner.  In other words, nobody else really could have played this role.  It was tailor made for a guy like George Burns.  Cause that was how he was.

God on the witness stand in court.  "I swear to tell the truth, so help me me."

Even though Oh, God is a light, harmless, completely good natured and inoffensive comedy, it is one those movies that has just sort of stuck with me over the years.  It is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't imagine a movie like this would be made today.  Heck, it starred John Denver and George Burns, neither one of whom was ever really known for being much of a movie star.  Seriously, look it up, George Burns was around forever but he only made about eight movies.  The fact that this movie, about this subject, starring -these- people, would turn out to be such a big hit, well that was probably a surprise to everyone.  I mean, Oh, God was no Star Wars, but it was certainly one of the other big movies of 1977*.

* It was the seventh highest grossing movie that year.

Before I sign off, let me just add one last thing about this movie.

I am not a religious person by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact a lot of people would say I was anti religion.  If you have read any of my posts on Facebook at all, I'm sure you have figured out by now that I have a pretty low opinion of religion in general.

However, I -love- the movie Oh, God.

And I know what you are going to say.  If you are religious, you are going to read that and probably think "Oh great, some douchebag who hates religion loves this movie because it makes fun of God."  But that is not true at all.  I would say Oh, God is as reverential and as thoughtful towards God than just about any movie I have ever seen.  

Even though God is, yes, at one point a cab driver

I saw Oh, God recently for the first time in about twenty years, and when I saw it was amazed at how well written it was.  And how respectful it was.  And how well the theology and the logic behind it holds up.  Like I said before, this is NOT a controversial movie.  It isn't going to offend anyone.  You could show this movie to your five year old kid and you will both probably enjoy it.

What I love about this movie is that it is the ONE movie out there about religion that can kind of win me over.  Bruce Almighty, yeah it was okay.  Evan Almighty, whatever.  But when I watch Oh, God, and I see George Burns' take on a kind hearted God who has no use for religion (but who still loves his people), well that is the kind of theology that I think anyone could get behind.

In the end, if I could offer one recommendation about Oh, God, it is this.  I don't like religion.  I don't know any movie about religion out there that would interest me in the slightest.  But Oh, God is fantastic.  It is one of those gentle little movies that doesn't really try to do much, but George Burns and John Denver are so good at what they do (and the script is so good) that it will warm your little heart.  If there really is a God, I would hope that He would be a lot like George Burns.

And again, the fact that John Denver never acted in another movie is pretty amazing.

The voice of the people

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Oh, God!:

Do they make em like that anymore? - 27 February 2005
I was reminded of this wonderful gem of a movie the other night when I watched Bruce Almighty again with some friends. That's been a favorite of mine in these last few years. Anyway it reminded me a little of Oh God for obvious reasons, the references to God, and the thought provoking quality mixed with wit and intelligent comedy.

Oh God was one of my favorite comedies growing up. It definitely is the kind of comedy that doesn't get made anymore unfortunately. I have yet to read the other reviews of this and hope to find some tens besides me, because while this was by and large a comedy, it was a delightful one and one that still lingers in my thoughts which is obviously why I decided to do a review. Comedies, when they are perfectly made, deserve 10's.

This is a 10 and one of the most thought provoking and beautiful comedies ever made. I am sure there are many growing up now, whole hosts of people, who have yet to discover this and I hope they do, particularly those who are fans of Bruce Almighty and are not aware of this wonderful movie from the 70's.

And not being a sequel person, I was a bit surprised that the sequel to this was just as good. My vote is 10 of 10 for excellent.

A great movie. - 13 January 2001
Oh God!, is a smart and funny film. It is truthful, without being condescending. It talks about religion without being religious. It also showcases George Burns' finest screen appearance aside from The Sunshine Boys.

As God, Burns is astonishing. Whenever John Denver asks questions that every being would ask if confronted by God, Burns replies with a certain, common sense, matter of fact response. There is no grandiose answer. One of my favorite lines is when John Denver's character asks "Why me?", God says, "Why not you? You know those supermarket things, every one millionth customer. Or whoever crosses the bridge at a certain time. Well you're the one millionth customer."

Speaking of Denver, he also is great, playing Jerry, not as a crazed man, but as an average grocery market assistant manager who is suddenly faced with the fact that God has chosen him to carry a message. He plays his character with a certain warmth, and naturalness.

Carl Reiner directed this film, and with a great eye. Notice how Jerry's everyday life is just that, everyday. The way he is with his wife, and kids, and people around him. I've seen it a dozen times, because that's how people actually act. Reiner brought a sense of realness to this movie, which in effect brought with it believability.

A nice, funny, underrated little movie. - 26 September 2004
"Oh, God!" is similar in many ways to "Bruce Almighty," but for some reason the former has gotten little attention over the years while the latter was a hit. While "Bruce Almighty" has some funny moments, I think this one is far superior.

First of all, George Burns is amazing. Morgan Freeman's God in "Bruce Almighty" had a slightly ominous, don't-cross-me nature, but Burns' is a God you can completely trust. He is caring and optimistic, and wants the world to get better. He doesn't throw Jerry into a situation he can't handle; he is there for him the whole time. Plus he is just a really fun guy to be around. Who wouldn't want to believe in a God like that?

John Denver also does a great job. It is hard to believe he had no acting experience before this, because he is top-notch. He is a kind, honest guy, not a selfish jerk like Jim Carrey's Bruce Almighty. He is nervous about delivering God's message to the world, but perfectly willing to do it.

Unlike that other God movie, this one delivers a good message without getting annoyingly preachy, it is consistently funny from start to finish, it has a likable main character, and it features a God who is a friend, not an opponent. I think everyone could enjoy watching this, whether they are religious or not.

Gentle, but significant - 30 September 2004
This is a warm, inclusive film. Maybe there's a bit of nostalgia in my comments, but I appreciate this movie's approach to faith.

God comes in a form that our modern society seems to enjoy dismissing-- the elderly. It's a delight to George Burns, who really does have all that mileage on him, and John Denver, whom no one will mistake for Laurence Olivier, create this relationship between the mundane and the spiritual that is relatable, relaxed and relevant.

In our culture, we already know about the forbidding and the punishing, and the hostility between faiths.

But here's a God who says, paraphrasing here, "Jesus was my son. Moses was my son. Mohammed was my son. Buddah was my son. And so are you. And so is the guy who's charging you 18.50 for a piece of room service roast beef."

Inclusive, with gentle humor. Burns' performance suggests a being who has seen a lot of the world, and doesn't expect anything of importance to happen quickly.

It's a loving and practical relationship between the everyday and the sacred.

And the old hands, Barnard Hughes and Paul Sorvino, and the whole gang of great character actors, make this a treat to watch. And gee, having Teri Garr play exasperated. That's like asking Pavarotti if maybe he'd like to sing something.

Maybe a bit sweet for your taste, I don't know. For me, I can actually watch it whenever it comes on and enjoy every moment of it.

Still Stands Up - 20 May 2003
I was a little apprehensive renting the DVD of this movie after all of these years since its original release, but most of it holds up remarkably well.

On the DVD commentary track, the makers of the film, looking back on it after 25 years, seem to be equally as surprised. The director, Carl Reiner, points to an eight-minute scene in which it is just Denver and Burns talking in a bathroom. There is no music, no fast cuts, no special effects, and the scene simply holds our attention on its own. Mr. Reiner indicates that there is no way that the scene would be made that way today.

Some scenes are timeless, such as Jerry's first encounter with the Almighty via intercom in the all-white room. Also classic is the infamous scene in the bathroom in which God first reveals himself in the flesh to a humbled and still somewhat disbelieving John Denver.

Unfortunately, not all of the movie holds up as well. Some things, especially exteriors, seem very dated. And even though it is quaint, it is hard to believe that an intelligent and capable husband and wife team would cherish a Supermarket Assistant Manager Job so much. Ah well, it was another time when people still believed in sticking with one company and working their way up through the ranks.

I wish that the film would explore some of the harder questions of religion a little more seriously, but one wonders if the film would collapse if taken out of its sweet, feel-good movie formula in which it is helplessly trapped forever.

If anything, rent it for the performances of the two leads. George Burns, playing the role at 83, is so good, that it is, (not to be cliched,) awesome. However, what is equally as unbelievable is the performance of John Denver in his first and only acting gig. He hits some of his notes perfectly, and it really shows a significant skill and timing to play straight man to a legend like Burns.

God bless George Burns - 19 September 2003
This is a really wonderful film that is masterful in every way. George Burns joked that when they offered him this part that no one could have played it because no one was closer to God's age. However, he was nervous about playing it and consulted the greatest actors about how to do it. Let me explain this film, the two leads were one person (John Denver) who was well known as a singer but who had never acted before in his life and another (George) who at almost 80 had only one other acting credit (The Sunshine Boys). However, this unlikely duo made movie magic! It is a truly amazing accomplishment and a joy watching them together. This is a film that is as important today as it was when it came out almost a quarter of a century ago. We all need to realize God's love and his message and no one did a better job of giving that then George did in this wonderful film, especially in the end in the courtroom speech that he gives. This man had spent his life as just a comedian not as an actor, but he deserved another Oscar for his outstanding work in this wonderful film. Carl Reiner deserves kudos for his wonderful directing job and Terri Garr gives a great performance as the understanding wife as does Paul Sorvino as the corrupt evangilist (they picked a safe target). However, the cheers and handshakes belong to George Burns and John Denver alone!!!. They have both left us and we are the poorer for it, but I hope that both of them are having a wonderful time in Heaven!

* My favorite trivia about Oh, God!:

* Briefly ended Star Wars's 15-week reign at the #1 spot at the box office in October of 1977, before Star Wars returned to the top spot the following week.

* My favorite quotes from Oh, God!:

Jerry Landers: People are always praying to you. Do you listen?
God: I can't help hearing. I don't always listen.
Jerry Landers: So then you don't care.
God: Of course I care! But what can I do?
Jerry Landers: What can you do? You're God!
God: Only for the big picture. I don't get into details.

Jerry Landers: How can you permit all the suffering that goes on the world?
God: Ah, how can I permit the suffering?
Jerry Landers: Yes!
God: I don't permit the suffering. You do. Free will. All the choices are yours.
Jerry Landers: Choices? What choices?
God: You can love each other, cherish and nurture each other or you can kill each other. Incidentally, "kill" is the word. It's not "waste." If I had wanted "waste" I would have written "thou shalt not waste." You're doing some very funny things with words. You're also turning the sky into mud. I look down, I can't believe the filth. Using the rivers for toilets, poisoning my fishes. You want a miracle? *You* make a fish from scratch. You can't. You think only God can make a tree? Try coming up with a mackerel. And when the last one's gone, that'll be that. Eighty-six on the fish, goodbye sky, so long world, over and out.

God: "Did Man fall from grace in the Garden of Eden?" I'll tell you something never came out. I made Adam 17. Eve was 15, 16 tops. I figured then 16, 17 was middle age, you know. Who knew people would live so long? Trees I figured had the best chance. Now I realize that they were kids, babies. Young people can't fall from my grace. They're my best things.

Court Clerk: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
God: So help me, me.
Judge Baker: So help you, you?

Bobbie Landers: I went to take out the garbage today and two people blessed me! And one of them blessed the garbage!

Jerry Landers: Why me?
God: Why not you?
Jerry Landers: You mean there's no special...
God: Life is a crap shoot, like the millionth customer that crosses the bridge gets to shake hands with the governor. You thought I picked you because you're better than everyone?
Jerry Landers: I'm not?
God: You're better than some but not as good as others, but you crossed the bridge at the right time.

God: The last miracle I did was the 1969 Mets. Before that, I think you have to go back to the Red Sea.

God: The reason I put everyone here naked... I wasn't trying to be cute. It's just that with clothes there's right away pockets, and pockets, you gotta put something in 'em.

Jerry Landers: You know, I'm, I'm liable to lose my job.
God: Lose a job, save a world. Not a bad deal.

Jerry Landers: I don't even go to any church!
God: Neither do I.

God: Why is it so hard for you to believe? Is my physical existence any more improbable than your own? What about all that hoo-ha with the devil awhile ago from that movie? Nobody had any problem believing that the devil took over and existed in a little girl. All she had to do was wet the rug, throw up some pea soup and everybody believed. The devil you could believe, but not God? I work in my own way. I don't, I don't get inside little children; they got enough to do just being themselves. Also I'm not about to go around to every person in the world and say, 'Look it's me, I wanna talk to you.' So I picked one man. One very good man. I told him God lives. I live. He had trouble believing too, in the beginning. I understood. I'm not sure how this whole miracle business started, the idea that anything connected with me has to be a miracle. Personally I'm sorry that it did. Makes the distance between us even greater. But if a miracle helps you believe that I am who I say I am... I'll give you one. A good one.

Oh, God! at the IMDB

Oh, God! at Wikipedia

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