Wholly Moses! 1980 ***

If nothing else, Amazon Prime has unearthed some forgotten films, justly forgotten in the case of Wholly Moses!, a biblical parody film featuring a scattering of Saturday Night Live talent. Released on the back of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and featuring Dudley Moore between mega-hits 10 and Arthur, it’s remarkably that Wholly Moses! didn’t make a dent, but less remarkable once you’ve seen it.

As a snapshot of random stars, however, Gary Weis’s film is a rich text. Moore and Laraine Newman plays tourists who are separated from their bus trip and discover some ancient scrolls, but this framing story doesn’t return until the final scene. Instead, we switch back to the time of Moses, with Moore cast as Hershel, a false prophet who lives at the same time as Moses and often crosses paths.

Vintage performers like Jack Gilford, James Coco and Paul Sand strike a few sparks when they appear, but many of the gags are lame; a David and Goliath stand-off where Hershel kicks the giant in the nuts. And that’s one of the sharper scenarios here; John Houseman turns up as an angel with a gold lame bow-tie, Madeleine Khan plays a witch, and Dom DeLuise underplays for once. John Ritter’s one scene cameo as Satan is passable, but Richard Pryor’s turn as Pharaoh is actually worth seeing. Reportedly filmed in one day and under duress, Pryor starts well with some well-timed mugging, but never shares the frame with Moore and seems to tire on camera as his solitary scene moves on.

There are some undercooked gags in here to mine; a puppet show that mimics bondage porn, Hershel being prepped for his meeting with Pharaoh as if he’s a stand-up comic about to go on-stage. But with Moore given far too much to do, and not doing it well, Wholly Moses! will always attract by dint of it’s cast, and then leave unfortunate viewers cast out into the wilderness.


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