In God We Tru$t Review
In God We Tru$t was the second, and last, of Marty Feldman’s films as director following his 1977 debut The Last Remake of Beau Geste. That particular effort saw a UK DVD release in January courtesy of Second Sight (and a US release as part of Universal’s burn-on-demand scheme), now joined by this Odeon disc. Both films make for an interesting pair sharing, as they do, many of the same flaws and qualities. Feldman not only directs but also stars and co-writes alongside Chris Allen, his collaborator on The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine for the BBC, thus bringing together his particular blend of sight gags, slapstick and absurdity. Meanwhile, both films are largely satirical in their approach: The Last Remake of Beau Geste turning its attentions to the Hollywood romantic adventure movie and poking fun at the more ridiculous elements inherent in such yarns (encapsulated by having Feldman play Michael York’s ‘identical’ twin brother); In God We Tru$t, on the other hand, points its finger at organised religion and evangelists, once again with an eye for the more absurdist aspects.
Neither The Last Remake of Beau Geste nor In God We Tru$t were particularly successful from a critical or commercial standpoint, with Feldman particularly displeased with Universal’s re-cutting of the former. Given this situation it’s tempting to read In God We Tru$t as the slightly safer film, one in which Feldman cast his old co-star from Young Frankenstein, Peter Boyle, alongside two of the key comic talents of the seventies, Andy Kaufman and Richard Pryor, as a means of sharing the comedic burden, if you will. Admittedly Pryor’s presence - as God - is essentially a glorified cameo, whilst Feldman remains very much the lead, yet this doesn’t prevent his co-stars (and mention should also be made of Louise Lasser, a regular in Woody Allen’s earliest films) from working as hard as their director for laughs. In contrast, The Last Remake of Beau Geste was populated predominantly by serious actors - Michael York, Trevor Howard, Sinead Cusack, James Earl Jones - with smaller roles for Spike Milligan, Terry-Thomas and Peter Ustinov. Perhaps that indicated a fear of being upstaged for the first-time director in his first major starring venture, fears which had clearly abated by the time of In God We Tru$t.
In a nutshell the plot concerns Feldman’s monk who is asked to leave the monastery for the first time (he was delivered there as an infant) in order to secure some much needed finance from Kaufman’s televangelist. He thus heads to Los Angeles as a complete innocent, unwittingly getting himself mixed up the ‘travelling church’ of Boyle’s conman as well as Lasser’s prostitute. Of course both turn out to be much more kindly than such tags would suggest, primarily because In God We Tru$t is such a sweet-natured film. Indeed, even the satire is somewhat toothless and lacking in genuine bile; rather it allows Feldman to indulge in his taste for the ridiculous and for Mel Brooks’ regular composer John Morris (who also scored The Last Remake of Beau Geste) to come up with a couple musical numbers complete with a helping hand from Mary Poppins choreographer DeeDee Wood.
Thankfully, the entire televangelist sub-plot revolves around Kaufman and his wonderfully game performance. Resplendent in an absurd blond pompadour, rumour has it the comedian ‘rehearsed’ for the role in public and never once broke out of character on set. It’s undoubtedly a film-stealing turn, and perhaps even the main reason to watch In God We Tru$t, although Feldman is shrewd enough not to share too much screen time with Kaufman. The pair are free to do their own thing: Kaufman going for the overblown, Feldman for the underplayed. Happily the blend works, although this may in part be down to the fact that neither had particularly prolific careers on the big screen and as such any appearances are to be welcomed. (Kaufman only had two other roles - a small turn in Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To and the lead in Heartbeeps - whilst Feldman was predominantly a supporting player, most famously for Mel Brooks, with tiny parts in the likes of The Bed Sitting Room, Yellowbeard and the fascinatingly awful Slapstick of Another Kind.)
Feldman’s innocent sees the actor channelling his love for Buster Keaton. It’s an aspect that had always been present in the comedian’s work, particularly in the silent movie homage sequences from his television series It’s Marty such as The Loneliness of the Long Distance Golfer. The monastery scenes which open In God We Tru$t - wherein we find a sign imploring “Silence except when talking to God” - allow the wordless comedy to take centre stage, whilst the final scenes play out like a variation on the climax to Keaton’s Seven Chances, albeit with Feldman on a skateboard. However, it’s not simply the silent comedian who earns the doff of Feldman’s cap: the monastery scenes also include a Tati-esque routine revolving around the various sounds of shuffling monks; the overblown chase sequence at the film’s end is as much in line with the over-the-top conclusions to John Landis’ National Lampoon’s Animal House (with which In God We Tru$t shares cinematographer Charles Correll) and The Blues Brothers.
Alongside these various acts of homage and integration with then current cinematic norms we also find, as said, the usual Feldman mixture of slapstick, sight gags (Feldman and Lasser walking down the street in a single cassock thus resembling a camel) and general absurdity (the opening shot is of a yawning rooster). If this suggests a slightly over-packed blend, then such a suggestion would be true. Moreover, this overall blend is somewhat hit-and-miss and more likely to raise a smile as opposed to genuine chuckle. Yet Feldman remains continually watchable, Kaufman - as already noted - completely steals the film, and Boyle, Lasser and Pryor are never less than engaging. Ultimately In God We Tru$t is a minor film, just as The Last Remake of Beau Geste is, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth a curious look. Indeed, Kaufman alone should prick up one or two ears.
In God We Tru$t has been released by Odeon Entertainment under license from Hollywood Classics on behalf of Universal Pictures. Given Universal’s involvement the disc is therefore coded for Region 2 as opposed to their usual Region 0. Labelled as a “digitally remastered edition”, the film itself is in mostly good shape - a little overt grain in places perhaps, but otherwise a clean print that maintains the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and mono soundtrack (here present in DD2.0 form). However, with that said the transfer isn’t of the best quality and can lack clarity at times whilst also being a little heavy with edge enhancement. Similarly, the soundtrack is merely okay as opposed to anything exceptional. Nonetheless, there is nothing about this particular release that would deem it unwatchable, whilst the relative obscurity of the film over the years makes its availability all the more appealing.
Extra features are limited to two additions: an animated gallery consisting of various production stills and gallery cards; and an interview with Richard Pryor conducted for Australian television in 1996. This latter piece is only five minutes long but it’s also remarkably candid. Pryor talks honestly about his illness (he had by this point been diagnosed with the multiple sclerosis that would eventually kill him) and his relationships with various women throughout the years. One of his ex-wives even appears on camera as part of this piece to talk even more openly about the latter in Pryor’s presence. It’s this level of honesty that makes the interview so fascinating - and the slightly awkward manner in which the Australian interviewer chuckles at everything Pryor says, no matter how serious or, for that matter, misogynistic it may be. Of course the connection with the main feature is rather slim (especially given Pryor’s small, but significant, role), but it’s undoubtedly worth a look.