- Movie Rating -

In God We Tru$t (1980)

| September 26, 1980

When I was a kid there was a TV preacher that I found wildly entertaining.  His name was Brother Hamill and he would appear on Sunday afternoons on one of those fuzzy UHF stations that seemed to alternate between second-tier professional wrestling, Japanese monster movies and old re-runs of “Petticoat Junction.”

Brother Hamill’s shtick was that he spoke collectively to elderly old ladies and encouraged them to send in a piece of paper with a pencil trace of their own foot along with $25 and he would add them to his prayer list.  He promised the vast riches of Heaven from his prayers, but even as I kid, I was kind of baffled as to why anyone communicating with God had to go through this guy.  Yet, he was interesting with his electric blue suit, is powdery wig and capped teeth, he looked like he could either be selling the glory of God, a lot full of used cars or a third-rate candidate for the state senate.  No one with sense would buy any of this, yet when he was finally indicted, he was found to have several homes, millions in monetary assets and, of course, years’ worth of back taxes due.

I’ve always been fascinated by these people, and apparently so has Marty Feldman.  Unfortunately, his film In God We Tru$t is not as much a scathing indictment of these people as we might like it to be.  He makes the grave miscalculation that the bigger the jokes, the more inflated the characters and the sillier that name, that’s all you really need.

Not true.  Comedy depends of characters, situations, details, context.  His comedy is based around the idea that if Andy Kaufman plays a television minister named Armageddon T. Thunderbolt with big hair and lots of flashing lights, that the work is done for him.

The movie stars Feldman himself as Brother Ambrose, a simple, good-hearted monk from a Trappist monastery St. Ambrose of the Unlikely with the mission of rescuing the monastery which is about to be foreclosed upon by the shifty Thunderbolt.  Ambrose is sent to beg him to reconsider.

Much like Being There, this is another story of a simpleton raised in sheltered confinement who experiences the world for the first time.  Ambrose is sent head-first into the scuzz of Los Angeles where he runs into a den of creeps, thugs, pimps, hookers, dealers, one man who plans to tap dance from L.A. to New York (shrug) and a travelling minster Dr. Sebastian Melmoth who has transformed an old school bus into a holy rolling temple.  The relationship between Ambrose and Melmoth is bizarre.  Melmoth steals from him, runs away and then later they become friends.  Why exactly is never really explained.

Then, for whatever reason, Feldman takes the movie from comedic overkill to something that, I think, was suppose to be pathos.  Ambrose falls in love with a hooker from Hollywood Boulevard played by Louise Lasser at a level so similar to Mary Hartman that you would think that the character had been transplanted.  Their relationship is supposed to be sweet and tender but it strikes all the wrong notes.  What was he going for there?

And what was going for with the ending of this movie.  There’s a connection between she and Melmoth that we just don’t care about, and Feldman’s decision at the end makes no sense given what he has experienced out in the world.  You would think that these events would strengthen his faith.

Truthfully, I’m just not interested in any of this.  I keep thinking back to Brother Hamill and how people like that are able to bilk money out of elderly people using their deepest faith.  How do people like that sleep at night?  How are they able to get through the legal cracks?  Those are the targets that Feldman should be aiming for, but this movie isn’t that focused.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized