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Blu-Ray Review: Shout Factory’s Oh, God Collection (Shout Select)

Oh God Collection

You, know … I don’t think anyone would be surprised if God ended up being George Burns (or Morgan Freeman).  Carl Reiner’s iconic comedy and the sequels make their way to Blu-ray in this box set from Shout Factory

The Films

Oh, God!

God (George Burns) enlists the help of an everyman Jerry Landers (John Denver) to spread his word.  Like Job and Moses before him, Jerry is besieged by just about everyone discounting him as crazy.  Jerry meanders on trying to do God’s bidding but ends up in court slapped with a libel/slander lawsuit from a crooked televangelist (Paul Sorvino), is there any other kind, with only his word… or maybe not just his word.  

The single reason that this film works is the amazing George Burns.  The comedy legend who appeared to be, much like Burgess Meredith, birthed at 108 years old uses his sly dry wit to create what everyone from Ralph Richardson to Alanis Morrissette to Morgan Freeman has basically imitated.  It is thanks in large part to Larry Gelbart’s script and Director Carl Reiner’s unadorned direction that the film is the right about of cynical and hopeful that doesn’t feel like it’s eye-rolling inducing saccharine. 

Surprisingly, John Denver is still good as the put upon guy God has anointed to take on his heavy task.  The way that Denver bounces off of expert comedians like Teri Garr or David Ogden Stiers is quite wonderful.  Though it is George Burns that steals the entire film.  

Though be warned that the third-act courtroom drama was stagnant even when the film was released in 1977.  The third act was even lifted, lazily, by another production to create an entire series of evangelical films (HARD pass on those as they’re awful-awful hateful crap).  

Oh, God! Book II

“Think God”

They knew they had something.  Oh, God! was a huge success.  What would be better than George Burns as God interacting with an internationally renowned Singer/Songer Writer … I KNOW!!! We’ll have him give his message to the most precious sweeter than a sweet little 11-year-old girl.  Then put her through the hell that is the cliché of cinema mental health (which is to say is so anti-mental health it will shock and anger anyone that has even an elementary school knowledge of mental health treatments) only to have God show up to save the day. Not really because as God says in the film, Children are our Future help them Teach the Way … or was that Stevie Wonder??? 

Anyhow, all the charm of the script by Larry Gelbart and direction by Carl Reiner has been replaced by Gil Cates flat TV-esque direction and a script by FIVE screenwriters who shall remain nameless.  The film wreaks of what the ‘80s would become with stigma to Mental Health, White Saviors, and Asian related jokes (yeah, my parents were Asian and got a divorce).  Everything just seems perfunctory, flat, and with little to no humor to it.  

Burns seems to be stranded here in the title role of God.  He comes in and says his lines, does his thing, and is gone.  There isn’t the spark that Burns had with Denver in the first film.  That could be that they picked the children actors of children actors.  I’m sure that Louanne Sirota is a fine TV Actor but here it doesn’t help matters.  The broadness of the way she plays it, with no guidance from Cates and a script that’s anything but helpful, really just adds up to a character we’re supposed to care about but … just don’t.  

In the end, everything turns out as you think it will with the happiest of happy endings with couples reunited, kids knowing God, Psychologist are evil (I mean they cast Bob Rigley (a prince) as the main Psychologist … so, of course, they’re bad!), and God walking off.  The best way to start the 1980s [for white people].  CUE MUSIC!!! 

Oh, God! You Devil

You can see how this all went down.  It’s 1982-ish.  Studio Execs know they need a cheap hit… “We’ve done all these God movies.  We need to really shake it up.  How about we have the Devil in this one???  And the best part; the Devil is played by Burns!  But we also need something else… something sexy!  What’s sexy right now??? That kid that was on General Hospital is now a rock star.  Rick Springfield.  Can’t afford him.  The other guy that looks like ‘em.  Craig Wass!  We’ll make him Rick Springfield rock star. Sold!”

It could have worked if they’d gotten Rick Springfield.  The biggest problem with Oh, God! You Devil is the fact you don’t believe for a second Craig Wass is a Rock Star.  But then again, maybe that’s the point.  That the Devil is fooling everyone by making Bobby Shelton a Rock Star. Wass is okay as the Wedding Singer with dreams of more, but everything feels… performative like Shelton doesn’t really want the dream.  The temptation is never there. 

The only real reason to watch the film is to watch Burns in his third go-around in the series HAM-it-up as The Devil.  Which is so tame and whatever that you’d roll your eyes if it was anyone other than Burns.  The script by Andrew Bergman who’s usually on-point with High-Concept Character-based comedy, strands Burns and everyone else.  Well, everyone but Ron Silver who makes an appearance as a bearding Joel Silver-esque Record Producer who steals the show because he’s FUCKING Ron Silver (EIC’s Note: we are all HUGE Stans for the late great Ron Silver, hence the F-Bomb as it was deemed “editorially” necessary).   

Aside from jokes about kids sticking their hands up teacher’s dresses and tracking shocks of groupies sleeping with the implications of sex drugs and good ole fashioned orgies, everything is very by-the-books wholesome “fun”.  One wishes that with the appearance of the Devil they may have been a bit meaner or even inventive.  Though it all ends with God and the Devil facing off in a card game in Las Vegas.  Fitting. 

The Transfers 

Oh, God!

This is by far the best of the bunch.  Warner Brothers provided Shout Factory what appears to be an older transfer.  The image is relatively good-looking and sharp.  The color production and contrast levels are somewhat muted but are unsure if this is the transfer of the actual way the film was shot by Victor Kemper.  

Oh, God! Book II

This is the worst of the bunch.  Warner Brothers like with Oh, God! has provided an older transfer.  The image is acceptable but at times feels nosier with digital artifacting than the others.  

Oh, God! You Devil 

The transfer for the final is as good as the original with a generally pleasing and sharp image. 

The Extras

They include the following;

DISC ONE: OH, GOD! (1977)

  • Audio Commentary By Director Carl Reiner, Screenwriter Larry Gelbart, Actress Teri Garr, And Producer Jerry Weintraub
  • Audio Commentary By Film Critic And Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman
  • John Denver Guest Hosts The Johnny Carson Show Featuring Interviews With Carl Reiner, George Burns, And Teri Garr
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Radio Spots

The archival commentary by Director Carl Reiner, Screenwriter Larry Gelbart, Actress Teri Garr, and Producer Jerry Weintraub is surprisingly informative considering these types of group commentaries tendencies to be “describing what’s on screen”.  Some of details from the commentary include this being Denver’s only film performance, how the film came to Reiner and Gelbart respectively, previous casting ideas, how Garr came to be cast, how they came to bring George Burns on to the film, how they came up with God’s costume, how did Denver and Burns got a long, how Burns was on-set, the casting of the film, the details of the production and the lack of issues, how they got Dinah Shore and working with her, working with Paul Servino, deleted work from Paul Servino and the other theologians, and much more.  There is a fair amount of the dreaded “describing what’s on screen” but there is a fair amount of good information about the production.  

The all-new commentary by Film Critic and Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman is both informative about both the spiritual and filmic aspects of the film. Some of details from the commentary include the career of Carl Reiner, the career of John Denver, the career of Teri Garr, the book that Avery Corman that the film is based on,  Corman’s biggest hit novel; Kramer vs. Kramer, the career of Larry Gelbart, the use of the number 27, the various actors who have played God along with George Burns, how closely the view of God hues closely to a the American Founding Father’s view of the deity, the musical career of Denver, the relationship of Reiner and Gelbart, the differences and similarities between the book and film, theophany in film and books, a critique of Gelbart’s thought of Theologians, the work of Paul Servino in the film as a Televangelist, the use of Aramaic, God’s use of various aspects of other Theological points of views, the court room/trail of Jerry and how it relates, God’s appearance at the trail and his message, and much more. Dr. Bowman’s commentary is a low-key affair but an informative one.  

John Denver Guest Hosts The Johnny Carson Show Featuring Carl Reiner (27:51) – taken from Denver’s guest host on September 29, 177 where Carl Reiner appeared.  This was not Denver’s first appearance and does great including some great jokes.   It’s the entire episode that includes not just Reiner’s appearance but one from the great Valerie Harper!  This episode is beautifully restored or pulled out from the Carson Vault (something that Shout Factory has multiple episodes streaming on their YouTube channel).

John Denver Guest Hosts The Johnny Carson Show Featuring George Burns, and Teri Garr (20:36) – taken from Denver’s guest host on October 3, 177 where both George Burns and Teri Garr appeared (and of course co-hose Ed McMahon).  Like the September 29th appearance it’s almost the full episode (one of the best moments is Denver calling Burns “a young dude”).  There is a very late 1970s Kenny Rodgers during Teri Garr’s appearance. This episode is beautifully restored or pulled out from the Carson Vault (something that Shout Factory has multiple episodes streaming on their YouTube channel).  

Theatrical Trailer (3:00) 

Radio Spots (3:44) – Seven Radio Spots featuring George Burns as God.  The ads play over an animated graphic with an image of Burns that feels like an Outtake from the Production.  

DISC TWO: OH, GOD! BOOK II (1980)

  • Audio Commentary By Film Critic And Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman
  • The Gospel According to Tom 
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Radio Spots

The all-new commentary by Film Critic and Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman is informative about both the spiritual and filmic aspects of the film which is a continuation of her conversation from the first film.  Some of the details include an interesting discussion of the opening title sequence, Louanne Sirota and her Broadway credentials, the development of the sequel and its non-sequel nature of the film, the similarities and differences between the sequel and the original, the influence of Star Wars (1977), the cliches of the “divorce” movie, the act of prayer in both cinema and in life, the Johnny Carson show appearance (what was supposed to be in the original but was substituted for Dinah Shore Show), the Ads slogans and how they came up, the concept of a monolithic God and how it’s overly-simplified in the film, the continuation of the conversation of the “Snuffaluffagus” argument from Sesame Street, the reason why they created the sequel, the unacceptable things that the child goes through in this film, the similarities to Joan of Arc, Symbolism in the film, the critiques of the film’s God in his absence and the sort of viciousness towards a child, and much more.  Dr. Bowman’s continued discussion of this film series gives a much more interesting and critical look at a sequel that has narrative issues.  

The Gospel According to Tom (22:23) – is an all-new interview with Assistant Director Tom Lofaro.  Lofaro begins with a detailed discusses what he as an AD does for the film and specifically for Oh, God! Book II. Some of the details he covers include the specific challenges faced with the film as a production and what was required of him, and more.  It’s very nice that Shout Factory included an interview that gives a glimpse into what a vital below-the-line crew member does such as an AD.   

Theatrical Trailer (1:06) – rather than theatrical it appears to be the teaser trailer with Burn’s voice-over blue skies.  

Radio Spots (1:53) – Four Radio Spots featuring George Burns as God.  The ads play over an animated graphic with a different image of Burns, this one from Oh, God! Book II.  

DISC THREE: OH, GOD! YOU DEVIL (1984)

  • Audio Commentary By Film Critic And Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman
  • The Gospel According to Ted
  • The Jack Benny Program Episode Guest Starring George Burns As The Devil
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Radio Spots

The all-new commentary by Film Critic and Theologian Dr. Donna Bowman is informative about both the spiritual and filmic aspects of the film is a continuation, and final, discussion about the Oh, God! series.  Some of the details include how the last film does tie to the first film which the second film did not, the development of the film and how screenwriter Andrew Bergman came up with the film, the career of Andrew Bergman, the career of Paul Bogart, the career of Ted Wass, a dissection of what a Tophet is, a discussion of George Burns playing both the Devil and God and much more.  As in the first sequel, Dr. Bowman’s continued discussion of this film series gives a much more interesting and critical look at this film than the actual film and its discussion of theology/religion.

The Gospel According to Ted (32:01) – is an all-new Interview with Actor Ted Wass.  Wass begins with how he was cast and how the producers initially were looking for a Pop Star.  The actor covers a lot of ground about the production, working with Burns, working with director Paul Bogart, working with the rest of the cast, and other great details.  

The Jack Benny Program (25:50) – This Classic Episode Dated October 7, 1956, Guest Starring George Burns As The Devil.  The piece of classic television is the full episode.  There are a few moments that will not be up to modern standards but that goes with anything from this far into the past.  But it’s great to see George Burns was actually a younger man (though that much younger).  

Theatrical Trailer (1:33) 

Radio Spots (1:59) – Four Radio Spots.  These do not feature George Burns as God or the Devil.  The ads play over an animated graphic with a different image of Burns, this time as the Devil, this one from Oh, God! You Devil.  

The Final Thought

Fans of George Burns or the Oh, God! series will not be disappointed with this box set and its wealth of extras provided by Shout Factory.  

Shout Factory‘s Blu-Ray Oh, God! Collection is out now

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