Tag Archives: George Burns

Oh, God! You Devil (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: God versus the devil.

Bobby Shelton (Ted Wass) is a struggling songwriter who is becoming increasingly frustrated at his inability to make it big. He blurts out at one point that he’d be willing to sell his soul if it could get him success and this catches the attention of the Devil (George Burns) who goes by the name Harry O. Trophet. He offers to become Bobby’s agent as long as Bobby signs a contract that gives him his soul after an indefinite period of time. Bobby, so desperate to reap the benefits of fame and fortune that has alluded him all his life, decides to take him up on the offer and soon becomes a world famous rock star named Billy Wayne. Yet Bobby misses his girlfriend Wendy (Roxanne Hart) who he can no longer see because he’s inhabiting a different identity. He longs to go back to his old way of life and tries to contact the services of God (George Burns) to dissolve the contact he signed and return him back to the way it was before.

After the critical shellacking of Oh, God! Book II the studio realized their mistake and attempted to take the theme in a whole new and hopefully fresh direction. They commissioned both Josh Greenfield and Andrew Bergman to write separate scripts and then ultimately choose Bergman’s over the other one. While the idea may sound funny the way it gets handled is not. All Bergman does is simply rework the Faust legend while offering very little that is new or inventive to it. The plot gets handled in an extremely heavy-handed and melodramatic manner that is neither funny nor engrossing. Bergman shows little feeling for the material and the story plods along in a predictable and boring way.

Wass, who no longer performs in front of the camera and has since 1995 worked exclusively behind-the-scenes as a director, is extremely weak. His performance is one-note and his constant deer-in-headlights expression is annoying. The film doesn’t do a good job of portraying his desperate situation either. Despite making very little money he’s still able to somehow afford a chic-looking apartment and maintain a relationship with a very hot-looking woman. I realize the point of the movie is to show that he already had a good thing going and just didn’t realize it, but his situation should’ve been shown to be more bleak in order to have his signing of the contract make more sense.

Burns is the only thing that saves it. He had never played a bad-guy before, so seeing him fall into the devil character as well as he does is fun and some of the lines that he conveys are the only amusing bits in the movie. However, the big showdown between God and the devil in which the two play a game of poker is not interesting at all and they needed to do something that offered more action, which is badly missing from the film otherwise.

This marked the final movie to date in the Oh, God! franchise. There were discussions a few years back about reviving it with Betty White playing the role of God, but because of her advanced age no insurance company would back it, so the idea got scrapped, which is a shame as this would be one reboot I’d be interested to see.  It would be nice if someone would make a film that more closely resembled the ‘Oh, God!’ novel by Avery Corman, which had a satirical tone that none of the three films replicated.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: November 9, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! Book II (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: God returns to earth.

Tracy (Louanne) is an 11-year-old girl who one day meets God (George Burns) when he invites her via a fortune cookie into the lounge of a Chinese restaurant where he asks her to help him spread the word that he exists. She then, with the help of her friends, creates posters that say ‘Think God’ which she puts up all over town, but this gets her suspended from school and then her parents (David Birney, Suzanne Pleshette) consider having her sent to a mental hospital after she keeps insisting that she’s spoken to the Almighty directly.

This follow-up to the 1977 hit lacks the freshness and originality of the first. The studio had initially wanted the John Denver character to return, but the producers insisted they wanted a ‘fresh start’ and not just continue the storyline from the first film. While the characters are different, the plot line remain the same causing the film to come-off like a boring reworking of the first one instead of a continuation.

Louanne, who now goes by Louanne Sirota, is adorable, which helps, but her hairstyle looks like something out of the 1940’s. She also believes in God right from the start even before she meets him, which doesn’t allow for any type of interesting character arch. It’s also quite  hard to believe that her ‘Think God’ poster campaign would have any affect and that a nonbeliever would somehow suddenly become a raging theist after spotting one of the amateurish looking signs.

Another issue is the God character who is full of idiosyncrasies. For one thing the concept of evolution gets glossed over and the film makes it like how we see things now in regards to animal and plant life is exactly how God envisioned them when they were created at the beginning of time. He also mentions having to sometimes sneeze, but why would a spirit need to do that? At another point he talks about answering phone calls, but why would there be telephones in Heaven?

It’s also confusing why God, who is supposedly an omnipotent being that knows what each person is thinking and feeling would need the help of a young child in order to ‘reach people’. He also seems like a cruel jerk as he coaxes this girl into this ad campaign, which puts her into a very traumatic situation as it gets her suspended from school and even on the brink of being put into an institution. If God is all-powerful why can’t he simply make himself appear on everyone’s TV at the same time in order to let everyone know that he exists instead of putting a young child through such unnecessary stress?

The humor is lacking and the only funny lines are the ones dealing with the big breasts of David Birney’s girlfriend (Denise Galik). I also didn’t understand why the word book gets put into the film’s title as there was never any second Oh God! novel written. Was this supposed to be a play-on-words in regards to the books of the Bible? If so then that joke, like just about everything else in the film, falls flat.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gilbert Cates

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Oh, God! (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: An atheist meets God.

Jerry Landers (John Denver) is a married man with two kids (Moosie Drier, Rachel Longaker) who works as an assistant manager at a local grocery store. He doesn’t consider himself to be religious nor does he attend church (he most likely could be called an atheist, but I assume that term was considered ‘too toxic’ of a label to put on a protagonist that mainstream audiences of the day were expected to like, so he’s just given the much softer description of being a non-believer.) One day he receives a letter in the mail stating that God would like to interview him at a certain location, but Jerry considers this to be a practical joke and throws it away, but when the letter keeps popping up at the most unlikely places he finally decides to take it seriously. He goes to the location and meets God (George Burns) who at first he does not see, but only hears, but eventually the almighty takes the form of an old man. He tells Jerry to spread the word that he exists, which Jerry does only to have it all snowball against him when everyone thinks he’s crazy and even his own family becomes embarrassed to be seen with him.

The film is based on the 1971 Avery Corman novel of the same name though the book had more of a satirical tone and the protagonist was a journalist. The film though manages to retain the same jaded sensibilities of the modern-day public, which is what makes it so amusing and for the most part quite on-target. Denver, who was known more as a singer and did very little acting both before or after this, is quite good here, but only if you can get past his bowl haircut. Burns is excellent as well and I always felt this is the performance he should’ve won the Academy Award for instead of the one in The Sunshine Boys as it easily became his signature role.

The script though by Larry Gelbart is full of incongruities. For instance the God here claims to be a non-interventionist who sets the process in motion and then lets things happen without getting involved. Everyone is given free will and he doesn’t intervene to stop suffering or ‘bad things’ from occurring because that would upset the ‘natural balance’, but then turns around and admits that he had a hand in such superficial things as helping the 1969 New York Mets win the pennant. He is also forced to become a ‘side show magician’ by performing what amounts to being magic acts, like doing a tacky card trick in front of a judge, in order to prove to Jerry and others that he really is the almighty. Yet he then becomes shocked to find that Jerry’s simple word-of-mouth as well as having Jerry pass out God’s ‘calling card’, which is nothing more than a white card with the word God on it, as not being enough to somehow convince others of the same thing.

There’s also a weird conversation, which I found loopy even as a child, where God tries to prove a point by explaining to Jerry that people only dream in black-and-white, which apparently was an accepted belief a long time ago. This idea has later been found to be incorrect, which is good as I’ve always dreamed in color, but it’s still off-kilter to have this supposedly all-knowing God argue a talking point from a debunked myth.

The performances by the supporting cast help  and in fact I consider this to be Teri Garr’s best role as I found her character arch to be more interesting than Denver’s. The aging Ralph Bellamy is good as an aggressive defense attorney and I also like Barnard Hughes as the overwhelmed judge. William Daniels is amusing as Denver’s snippy boss and a type of authoritative character he’d put to perfection years later in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’. Paul Sorvino gets a few laughs too in a send-up of an over-the-top TV evangelist.

The only one that I had a problem with was Donald Pleasance who gets fourth billing, but only 2 lines of dialogue. With such a versatile talent as his you don’t want to waste it by giving him such a small role and unless a lot of his work here ended up on the cutting room floor I’m genuinely surprised why he even took it.

The film is mildly entertaining, but ultimately quite benign and nowhere near as ‘profound’ as some considered it. Nonetheless it was a big hit and even knocked Star Wars out of the top spot for 1-week. It also spawned 2 sequels as well as a TV-movie called ‘Human Feelings’ where Nancy Walker plays a female God set to destroy Las Vegas with a flood unless Billy Crystal, who plays an angel, can find 6 virtuous people that live there.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 7, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Going in Style (1979)

going-in-style

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Old guys rob bank.

Three elderly men (George Burns, Art Carney, Lee Strasburg) who are living together in a rundown Brooklyn apartment and on a fixed income decide one day to liven up their lives by robbing a bank. None of them have ever committed a crime before and don’t even know how to handle a gun, but end up pulling off a major heist nonetheless and getting away with $35,000 in cash. However, things begin to fall apart once the crime is completed and even a side-trip to Vegas can’t keep the feds from slowly moving in.

On the outset the plot seems like a very funny idea and some of the social context about the difficulties of growing old that gets mixed in with it is right on-target. However, to me it just doesn’t come together. The men latch on to the idea too quickly and I would’ve expected more resistance or having at least one of them chickening out at the last second. These are individuals with no criminal record and although I realize that they are bored why couldn’t they have just taken up a new hobby or social cause instead. It’s not like they were out on the streets or completely desperate. The apartment they resided in looked livable enough and I might’ve bought into the premise better had one of them needed a major operation and thus the others were forced to go to extremes like robbing a bank to help pay for it.

The part where they sit around a table trying to figure out which stack of bullets goes into which gun is amusing and quite possibly the best bit in the film, but there’s a lot more comic potential that could’ve been squeezed out of this otherwise quirky plot that is never taken advantage of. The crime gets carried off in too much of a seamless fashion with a myriad of possible problems that could’ve and should’ve cropped up being completely overlooked.

The second half that deals with two of them taking a trip to Vegas seems like a plotline to a whole different movie.  Writer/director Martin Brest should’ve chosen one or the other by either playing up the bank robbery premise and its preparation more or just rolled from the beginning with the Vegas trip, which has a lot of funny untapped potential as well, but cramming the two together or not taking enough advantage of either one was a mistake.

Burns gives an excellent performance and I was amazed how very talented this 83 year-old gentlemen was especially when you factor in that he never had any formal acting training and was basically just a vaudeville comedian, but here he creates a convincing and surprisingly savvy character. Strasberg, who spent years as an acting teacher and didn’t do any film roles until much later in his life, is superb as well and I was disappointed his character wasn’t in more scenes.

A reboot of this film has already been completed and set for an April 7, 2017 release. It will star Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin as the three elderly men and I’m quite interested to see how the two versions deviate from the other. I’m hoping that the comedy angle gets played up more and from reading the synopsis I have an inkling it will. It hopefully will be an improvement as I came away from this one feeling like it had missed-the-mark.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Martin Brest

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube