Oh, God! (1977) – A Review

John Denver and George Burns in Oh, God!

Jerry Landers (John Denver) has a nice life. He has an adoring wife (Teri Garr), two sweet kids and a steady job being an assistant supermarket manager with hopes of a promotion soon. Everything is running fine until one day Jerry gets a visit from God (George Burns). He’s chosen Jerry to spread his word to a cynical world and wants him to be a modern day Moses.

Jerry is quite surprised by being chosen for this task. As he explains to God he’s not religious and doesn’t even belong to a church. God is unshaken by his choice of Jerry and replies, “Neither do I.”

God has an answer for everything.

Oh, God! was a surprise hit when it landed in 1977 theaters and it continues to hold up as a sweet simple comedy.

In fact, watching it today I’m surprised at how seemingly simple it is. It’s a small, quiet movie that doesn’t possess a lot of flash. There’s no big showy moments. Most of the scenes take place in ordinary rooms, cars, even the big court room ending scene looks rather quaint. It never gets heavy-handed in its message. And its humor doesn’t come from attempted sidesplitting guffaws, but more sedate jokes and a light, leisurely tone.

It’s certainly not a showy movie. Director Carl Reiner never gets fancy with how anything is shot. It’s very basic. There’s a TV-movie-ish quality about it, but I think that becomes one of its charms. The story is amusing, there are some funny droll jokes, Denver and Burns are both extremely likable and when they’re onscreen together it makes it an enjoyable experience that the movie really doesn’t need much else.

Most of their scenes together are simply Denver and Burns talking – that’s it. And I mean, very long dialogue scenes compared to what audiences are used to today, but their performances and the witty script (that got nominated for an Oscar) is enough to hold your attention and it never feels boring.

As Jerry goes about telling people that he and God are having a one-on-one, of course he runs into skepticism from everyone. It’s an excellent supporting cast that includes some pretty recognizable faces. Ralph Bellamy, William Daniels, Paul Sorvino, Donald Pleasance (who amazingly has only one line of dialogue) and of course Garr.

My personal favorite moment comes from the always memorable George Furth who plays a religious newspaper columnist. As Denver is passionately describing his encounters with God and asking him to print his story, Furth nervously is nodding his head and ever so subtly moves his letter opener sitting on his desk out of the reach from Denver. It’s such a small moment, but it makes me laugh everytime I see it.

Denver has such a wholesome, good natured quality about him It’s pretty surprising this was his first real acting in a movie he had done. I always wondered how he was chosen of for this part. He seems like a strange choice, but he’s really good in this.

Burns was enjoying a resurgence in popularity thanks to his Oscar winning performance in The Sunshine Boys and again he’s very funny in the role of God. He can rattle off his one-liners like a seasoned pro. He would come back to play God in two sequels, but both of them are quite forgettable compared to the first.

I kept thinking if this were made today it would be such a different film. One random thing that really stood out to me while rewatching this is the fact they made Jerry work in a supermarket. Again, it’s not a flashy job for a character in a movie,  but it’s such a visually interesting setting to place him in.

I imagine in a remake they would try to give Jerry a much fancier job. I can’t remember the last time I saw walk into a supermarket, let alone work in one. They’d probably make him be a book publisher or work at a magazine or somewhere where his office would be in a huge anonymous looking building with giant windows.

There was actually talk of proposed remake of Oh God! with Ellen DeGeneres as the Almighty – I think that idea thankfully got canned. The original is holding up just fine.


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