The latest actor to play the big role -- God -- is Sir Ralph Richardson in a film called "Time Bandits." The British-made sci-fi flick opens in London July 16. In addition to Sir Ralph, the cast includes Sean Connery as Agamemnon and John Cleese, Monty Python's minister of silly walks, as Robin Hood. George Harrison has written two songs for the film . . .

Conflict of interest? Clive Barnes, former drama critic at The New York Times and currently sitting on the aisle for the New York Post, is embroiled in controversy over his accepting payment to do a radio ad for a play. Barnes gave the play, an off-Broadway musical called "El Bravo," a rave review although the play was generally disliked by other New York critics. Critics' quotes have long been used in theatrical advertising, but Barnes is believed to be the first to accept payment from a producer for his opinion. The payment is $175, union minimum, which Barnes told Variety he will turn over to the Actors' Fund of America . . .

In for a penny, in for a pound . . . Filmways Productions is spending $9 million on publicity for "Blow Out," the new Brian de Palma film starring John Travolta and de Palma's wife, Nancy Allen. That kind of money could make another movie and a half at today's costs. Instead it will buy, among other things, a six-page advertising insert in Gentleman's Quarterly. The movie will be released this month . . .

Mark Hamill's name above the title wasn't enough to keep a long-running hit running even longer, so the Broadway production of "The Elephant Man" closed last week. The play ran 916 performances . . .

Legendary jazz musician Ornette Coleman made his first public appearance in three years with a performance at the Public Theatre in New York last weekend. Coleman is also writing the soundtrack for the film "Box Office". . .