Tag Archives: William Daniels

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

Her Alibi (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Novelist falls for suspect.

Phil Blackwood (Tom Selleck) is the author of a successful series of mystery novels, but now finds himself dealing with writer’s block and unable come up with a plot for his next book. Then he meets the beautiful Nina (Paulina Porizkova) a Romanian woman charged with murder. With the help of his publisher Sam (William Daniels) they concoct an alibi that allows her to be released from jail on bond. She then moves in with him in his large home where Phil feeds off her presence to come up with his next story idea while also keeping an eye on her to make sure she won’t try to kill him when he is not looking.

Although Paulina got nominated for a Golden Razzie award for worst actress of 1989 (eventually losing out to Heather Locklear) I still came away feeling she was the best thing about this otherwise threadbare film. The former swimsuit model’s face is of course appealing and her accent is sexy, but what I liked even better is that she does not behave like most American beauties and instead is quite feisty, self-sufficient and opinionated. In many ways she upstages her more famous co-star by a mile and easily the one thing that helps propel this limp movie along.

Selleck has his charm, but he is not convincing at all as an author who should be nerdier and resemble a book worm.  The character appears to have had a very successful writing career already as evidenced by all the book covers of his novels that gets shown during the film’s opening credits, which is the coolest part of the movie. His large home makes it seem that he could retire in luxury and thus the storyline involving his writer’s block adds no urgency.

The film’s lighthearted tone makes it clear that Paulina is not a dangerous killer and that she’ll somehow be found innocent in the end making the scenes showing Selleck’s paranoia about her seem silly and adds no true tension or multi-dimension.

The romantic angle is equally botched as there is too much of an age difference between the two (20 years) making Selleck seem almost like a father figure. It’s also hard to understand why this beautiful young woman would fall for such a clueless idiot who comes off as a benign bumbling dope that she can easily manipulate. What’s worse is that she throws herself at him an hour into the runtime, so there’s no longer any question of romantic intent making the final 30 minutes virtually pointless.

Lots of slapstick scenes get thrown in that has nothing to do with the main story and simply there to pad the runtime. The dumbest of these occurs near the end where Selleck and friends think that they’ve eaten a dinner that was poisoned. In a misguided attempt to flush the poison out, Patrick Wayne, who plays Selleck’s brother, drinks Drano which is quite obviously dangerous. He spits it out, but that wouldn’t stop his mouth from burning, blisters from forming, or flesh from peeling away from his mouth, which doesn’t occur, but normally would’ve. Film characters drinking Drano had already been done before in the movie Magnum Force and it inspired real-life criminals to force their victims to drink it in the infamous Hi-Fi murders that happened in Ogden, Utah in 1974, so for that reason alone it should never be shown in another movie again and for such a superficial production like this to just randomly putting it in and acting like it’s ‘funny’ is utterly irresponsible.

The film starts out engagingly enough, but loses the air in its tire long before it’s over. Even the normally reliable William Daniels gets wasted. He is quite adept at playing pompous authority types, like in the TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’, but not as a passive schmuck like here.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: February 3, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Beresford

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube