In March, while my mom and I were watching the Carole Lombard film We’re Not Dressing which also features George Burns and Gracie Allen, my mom asked me if I’d ever seen the movie where George Burns plays God. I’d never even heard of it, but when she told me it also starred John Denver, I knew I had to track it down.
Oh, God! was released in 1977. John Denver is Jerry, the assistant manager of a grocery store who lives a pretty normal life and seems like a generally cheery guy. One day, Jerry gets a message that says he has been selected for an “interview,” which is actually an interview with none other than God himself. After some mishap and hesitation, God finally convinces Jerry that he has been selected as a messenger and must convince everyone in the world to stop being hateful toward each other.
Carl Reiner directs the film, which is based on a 1971 novel by Avery Corman. It was followed by Oh, God! Book II and Oh, God! You Devil, with George Burns reprising his role in each of the sequels.
From the opening scenes of John Denver working in a grocery store – organizing eggs, eating pork rinds, stopping nutty housewives from stealing steaks – it’s clear that Oh, God! is going to be a very odd film. It’s quite appropriately titled, as you’ll probably find yourself thinking “Oh, God” a lot while watching.
“Oh, God… what is that mirror necklace contraption that looks like it came from a bad informercial?”
“Oh, God… did I just hear John Denver ask his on-screen wife ‘Did we make love last night? Just checking’?”
“Oh, God… John Denver is such a bad fake sleeper.”
“Oh, God… is John Denver having a serious conversation about romaine lettuce displays right now? Are they really dedicating a few minutes of the film to a debate about lettuce?”
The film is baffling but also a lot of fun to watch. The humorous moments are aplenty.
For instance, George Burns as God calls himself “God… Big G.” He says that his biggest mistakes in creating the world are tobacco, ostriches and avocados. He shows up in John Denver’s bathroom to have a serious talk about the state of the world while John Denver is in the shower.
When Jerry’s family is bothered by reporters, they decide to solve the problem by stuffing the phone receiver in a drawer and covering up the rest of the phone with a dish towel. Hippies gather outside of their house in hopes of bearing Jerry’s children.
When Jerry’s kids become confused by his behavior, they have the following conversation —
Becky: “Maybe he’s going through a stage… mental pause.”
Adam: “That’s menopause.”
Becky: “Yeah, like grandma.”
Adam: “I hope!”
And on top of all of that, none other than “Mr. FE-HE-HE-HENAY” of Boy Meets World (William Daniels) owns the grocery store.
In all seriousness, the premise alone makes this film one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. God wants Jerry to spread the good word and cure the world of non-believers… kind of like a heavenly version of Invisible Invaders. George Burns stalks grocery-loving John Denver throughout the entire film.
I can’t see John Denver’s face without recalling a million road trips taken as a child while his greatest hits album was playing, and that probably hindered my ability to take the film seriously. I do appreciate the fact that it simultaneously criticizes the greedy side of organized religion and explores questions like whether God exists, why he doesn’t fix all of the world’s problems if he does exist and whether our lives are predestined.
This edge of serious discussion-sparking keeps the film from being 100% corn, but it’s still pretty dang corny, and the religious criticism aspect itself is constructed in a very snarky, funny way. The film is equal parts seriously awesome satire and completely ridiculous cheese-fest. The Corny Cliff Scale Score: 4/5