Directed By: Gary Weis
Starring: Dudley Moore, Laraine Newman, James Coco
Tag line: "The story of Herschel. He wanted to be Moses...but he didn't have the right connections"
Trivia: Was originally titled The Book of Herschel
Wholly Moses! was the very first movie we bought after getting a VCR, back when pre-recorded videotapes could run you damn near $100 (as I recall, it cost $89.95). So, as you can imagine, we tried to squeeze our money’s worth out of it, watching Wholly Moses! over and over and over again. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t the funniest comedy ever made, but at least it had its moments. Seeing it now, I found those “moments” were fewer, and farther apart, than I remember them being.
During a tour of the Holy Land, Harvey (Dudley Moore), a languages professor, and Zoey (Laraine Newman), who Harvey just met on the bus, break from the group to chase Zoey’s hat after its blown away by a strong wind. Their search leads them to a hidden cave, where they discover a lost biblical scroll detailing the exploits of an unknown prophet named Herschel. Having lived during the time of Moses, Herschel (also played by Moore) was destined to remain in the shadow of his famous counterpart. Whereas the infant Moses was raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Herschel, also sent down the river in a basket by his father, the slave Hyssop (James Coco), ended up the adopted son of a sculptor, one who specialized in images of pagan Gods. Things didn’t get much better for Herschel when he was old enough to strike out on his own. His brief stint as the Pharaoh’s advisor ended badly, and while he did meet and fall in love with Zerelda (played by Newman), a shepherd’s daughter who became his wife, he was further disappointed to learn that the “Message from God” he thought was for him was actually meant for his brother-in-law, Moses. So when Herschel set out to free the slaves in Egypt, he found Moses had already beaten him to the punch!
Wholly Moses! contains a slew of star cameos, including the likes of Madeline Kahn, Jack Gilford, John Ritter (as the Devil), John Houseman (as an Archangel), Richard Pryor (as the Pharaoh) and Dom DeLuise. Pryor’s turn as the manic ruler of Egypt is probably the film’s most memorable cameo (at one point, he seems to be arguing with his hand), while Houseman’s Archangel (planning the destruction of a corrupt desert town named “New Sodom”) and Ritter’s Satan (waiting for the damned souls of New Sodom after said destruction) fare the best. These brief segments, plus the occasionally funny give-and-take between Moore and Coco, give Wholly Moses! what little shine it has. But for the most part, the comedy is stale. In a later scene, Herschel is fighting a goliath-sized adversary, and, much like King David before him, he picks up a rock and slings it at the giant, only to hit his foe squarely in the groin. Yeah, it’s that level of humor you can expect to find throughout the entire movie.
Dudley Moore tries his damnedest in the dual role of Harvey and Herschel, but the material doesn’t meet him halfway, relying on bad sight gags, and even worse slapstick, to carry the film. This, coupled with the uninspired direction of Gary Weis, have me wondering what the hell possessed us to spend $90 on Wholly Moses!?
Maybe if I find the receipt, I can…
Nah, probably not!