Brother Ambrose (Marty Feldman) is a Trappist monk in this monastery out in the Californian countryside, and having taken a vow of silence is only allowed to talk to God. He wakes up with the cockrel crowing and sets about his morning routine, preparing breakfast for the brothers, attending to repairs, and saying his prayers when the head abbot, Thelonious (Wilfrid Hyde-White) calls him over and informs him he has a mission to perform. The monastery is in financial dire straits and if they don't come up with five thousand dollars to pay the mortgage it's curtains for the lot of them...
Marty Feldman's second film as director came after his unexpected, if minor hit The Last Remake of Beau Geste which in spite of studio interference managed to make money, therefore for the follow up he was allowed carte blanche by the studio to create something new. As he had been dismayed by watching greedy television evangelists during his time in the United States, the sort of people who claimed to be close to God but were in fact closer to their bank accounts, he thought they would be the ideal target for comedy, and so it was In God We Tru$t was invented as a vehicle for him, combined with what he saw as pointed satire.
As it was, perhaps it was the wrong time for such humour, maybe the premise wasn't promising enough, but this was not a hit and Feldman retreated into other projects which were never really realised thanks to his early death. However, on occasional television showings the film picked up a few fans, not a huge amount but enough to make it a candidate for reassessment, and it was true there were a lot more laughs here than its reputation would indicate, certainly more than were claimed to be on its initial release, although that wouldn't be difficult because there were many who didn't think there were any laughs in it whatsoever. It could have been that there was a goodnatured quality to this which many regarded as weak.
After all, the sort of satire which goes over well is the kind which has teeth, and with Ambrose as the protagonist, a meek shall inherit the earth type whose faith has blinded him to the duplicity in the world - but then, he has spent his whole life in the monastery - you could mistake the movie as a mild send-up. On the other hand, if you took in what Feldman was saying, you could see a method in his madness for every religious character in this aside from Ambrose was solely out to wrangle as much cash from their followers as they possibly could, a cynical take on supposed holy men who make a great show of being pious, yet are actually conmen hiding behind the word of God to generate a fortune.
Ambrose has been dispatched to ask for funds from televangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird, a less than subtle name for a less than subtle character, here played in a rare big screen appearance by cult comedian Andy Kaufman. Apparently he was deeply committed to his role to the extent of preaching on the streets in character, and he makes for a solid villain who in a quirk actually does talk to God - or G.O.D. who is a powerful financial computer played by Richard Pryor with a long grey beard. In the meantime, Ambrose is taught about life by prostitute Mary (Louise Lasser) who he moves in with because she takes pity on him, and his path keeps crossing with a charlatan far lower down the pecking order in Dr. Sebastian Melmouth (Peter Boyle) who Ambrose guides back to the straight and narrow. With an episodic structure and ending in a W.C. Fields-esque action finale, this had its heart in the right place, and some gags were inspired (the "Seek! Hail!" chant among the congregation), but that necessary savagery was lacking. Music by John Morris.