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Film / Wholly Moses!

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Wholly Moses! is a 1980 Biblical epic spoof directed by Gary Weis and starring Dudley Moore as Herschel, a half-brother of Moses whose life runs in comedic parallel to his more famous relative. Laraine Newman plays his ill-fated wife Zerelda, while various comedic celebrities of the era pop in for quick cameos.

The film was a shameless attempt to replicate the commercial and artistic success of the Monty Python troupe's Life of Brian, released the previous year — a task at which it is nigh-well universally considered to have utterly failed. As seen below, here on TV Tropes the film is pretty much remembered for a single short scene between Herschel and Satan, the latter played by John Ritter.


  • Belly Dancer: Some appear during the Sodom and Gomorrah sequence.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Herschel does a stint as a shepherd, so of course the film throws in a few sheep jokes.
  • Bible Times: The setting of most of the film.
  • Big Red Devil: Ritter's Satan is a guy in a Halloween-level devil costume toting the standard triangle-tipped trident; he says he got the job when one day his then-partner God came over to him and said "Here, try this on!"
  • Black Comedy: After the Taken for Granite scene below, Hyssop is seen scraping bits off of Zerelda to flavor his meal. Herschel tells him to stop doing that.
  • The Cameo: A whole string of them, including Richard Pryor as The Pharaoh. (Pryor's usual flakiness caused problems for the producers.)
  • A Chat with Satan: Quite literally — this Satan is a pleasant and affable guy.
  • Framing Device: The film starts and ends with Moore and Newman as modern tourists finding The Book of Herschel while vacationing in Israel.
  • Head-Tiltingly Kinky:
    • Herschel and Zerelda "baa" at each other during sex.
    • The Sodomites provoke this reaction from Herschel.
  • Homage: Herschel's conversation with God mirrors that of Job.
  • Humans Are Special: Herschel finally demands answers from God because he is Man...and gets them!
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Herschel thinks he is destined for greatness — and finds out too late he's just a footnote in history, at best.
  • Late to the Party: Herschel comes to the Pharaoh to demand he free the Jewish slaves — only to find Moses already did it. Frogs are still being swept from the palace and the Pharaoh enjoys playing with Moses' snake staff.
  • Literal Metaphor: Herschel is pleased to break bread. Unfortunately, all that's done is the bread is broken — then tossed away.
  • Love Potion: Madeline Kahn puts in an appearance as a woman selling these from her cart.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: Following in more famous metaphorical footsteps.
  • Our Angels Are Different: John Houseman cameos as one, wearing his usual bowtie as he unleashes the fire and brimstone.
  • Perspective Flip: The story of Moses, told from Herschel's perspective.
  • Pun-Based Title: A play on the exclamation "Holy Moses!"
  • Rage Against the Heavens: See Humans Are Special above.
  • Satan Is Good: And quite possibly the best thing in the entire movie!
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Herschel just wants to be remembered — and God obliges, leaving his story for one couple to read. However, the scroll scatters into dust, so only one couple knows his story.
  • Someone Has to Do It: Satan's opinion of his job. He sighs he has to stop chatting with Herschel because he has to ferry the damned to hell when they approach.
  • Taken for Granite: Zerelda looks back at Sodom and Gomorrah and, like Lot's wife, is turned to salt.