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Classic Film Gods

Oh_godIf you’re going to hire someone to play God in a movie, who better than Morgan Freeman? (I refer of course to the Judeo-Christian concept of the deity: I will leave it to those of other religious persuasions to decide who if anyone would be proper cast to match their faiths.) That’s about the best that can be said for Evan Almighty, which was recently released to DVD. Freeman reprises his role from Bruce Almighty, which was set in my home townof Buffalo but filmed in San Diego, a city that looks absolutely nothing like Buffalo.

Wonderful as Freeman is, though, he doesn’t quite fill the shoes of George Burns, who played God in three films in the late 1980s and early 80s. The best was the first, Oh, God!, which has a plot that is not dissimilar to Evan Almighty: taking as non-scary a persona as he could conceive of (and who’s less scary than George Burns, unless you’re an anti-smoking advocate?), God appears to a grocery store manager (singer John Denver, surprisingly effective) and asks him to get his word out into the modern media. The two sequels—Oh, God! Book II and Oh, God! You Devil!— exploited Burns’ octogenarian charm to diminishing effect. Reportedly the producers of the series are looking to remake it.

And while God (aka "The Father") has been less seen on screen than Jesus (aka "The Son"), a few other performers have provided surprising interpretations of him. Among them:

Time Bandits—In Terry Gilliam’s delightful 1981 film about a group of midget thieves who steal the map of time and the universe, Ralph Richardson plays an undemoninated God in a ratty cardigan who finally catches up with them. He has one of my favorite lines of movie dialogue: upbraiding his minions for thinking they could put one over on him, he mutters, "I am the Supreme Being, you know, I’m not entirely dim…"

The Next Voice You Hear—In this unusual drama from 1951, ordinary Americans hear the voice of God over the radio, assuring them of his relevance in their troubled lives. It stars James Whitmore and Nancy Davis, but the actual voice of God is cleverly never heard.

Dogma—Only Kevin Smith would think to cast outrageous singer Alanis Morissette as God in his wildly ambitious film. It’s a wise director who knows when not to push too far, though, as Smith displayed by not giving her any dialogue.

Night Train to Terror—Character actor Ferdy Mayne wears what looks like a Santa Claus beard  to play God, arguing with Satan over the fate of mankind, in segments linking three horror stories that are actually condensed versions of three unfinished or unreleased movies. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it—it’s a real stinker, though a must-see if you’re a fan of so-bad-they-re good movies.

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