The Magic Christian Film Details
Overview: Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), the richest man in the world, adopts a homeless boy, Youngman (Sir Ringo Starr). Together, they set out to prove that anyone, and anything, can be bought with money.
Tagline: The Magic Christian is: antiestablishmentarian, antibellum, antitrust, antiseptic, antibiotic, antisocial & antipasto.
Review: Peter Sellers and Joseph McGrath were not good for each other. The actor and director came together three times (“Casino Royale,” “The Great McGonagall,” and this). Each time the result was awful. This, however, is the nadir, probably the least funny and undoubtedly most unpleasant Sellers comedy ever made. Sellers is Sir Guy Grand, London plutocrat with a decidedly odd sense of humor. Accosting a young vagrant he makes into son Youngman Grand (Ringo Starr), Guy plays a series of elaborate tricks on the rich and not-so-rich alike, designed to shake them out of their materialistic rut and restore their “faith in the mystery of life.” How this is done is the rub of the film, which tends to divide those who have seen it into two camps. Some see a cleverly nonsensical flip off of society in tune with its Woodstock times. “Groove with your space, Commander Dad,” as Youngman declares. Others like me find it sloppy, ugly, and as funny as the Tet Offensive, whose most famously gruesome moment is replayed here for a cheap laugh. Even good counterculture cinema makes for uncomfortable viewing, and not always to its benefit. “Easy Rider” and “Midnight Cowboy,” both also from 1969, are not easy films to watch, but they do reward your attention. “Magic Christian” just attacks you with its dyspeptic contempt, a misanthrope in hippie clothing. A woman is offered shampoo that melts her hair. “The price of vanity,” suggests Youngman. Guy balls up a dish of caviar and slams it into his face to gross out diners at a fancy eatery. The jet set boards a strange ship called the Magic Christian that features gay muscle men, terrorist hijackers, and Christopher Lee as a vampire. The jokes aren’t all that coherent, let alone funny. They just feel mean, like when a hot dog vendor gets his cart wrecked trying to sell Guy a frank. “Sometimes it’s not enough to teach,” Guy explains. “Sometimes one has to punish as well.” Apparently that involves dressing as a nun and throwing a party on a train to shock some uptight square who makes less money in his life than Sir Guy does in a day. Whatever. Sellers was famously coming off his hinges at this point in his life and career, and probably thought the nastier he made Guy, the funnier it would be. Apparently seeing in Guy a mere fictive substitute for himself, he has Guy employ a number of accents (old fogy, upper-class twit, American) as he sows his turmoil with sanguine disengagement. McGrath seems to think his material can be even edgier if he can plunk some racial or sexual subtext in the middle of things, apropos of nothing. An African shows up at a dog show with his pet panther, then gives the black power salute a la Mexico City ’68 as he is hustled away. It’s funny because he’s black! Meanwhile, everything in the film screams gay, including Guy and Youngman’s relationship, to the point it becomes shocking when a guy asks a WOMAN to beat him with a whip (albeit not just any woman, but Raquel Welch at her absolute peak.) Ah, the 1960s. At least you could count on the music. Badfinger’s performance of Paul McCartney’s “Come And Get It” justifies the involvement of at least one Beatle in this mess, while Geoffrey Unsworth shoots the film with his typically fine eye. There’s also one good joke, involving a woman with suspiciously big hair who performs “Mad About The Boy” aboard the Christian. It’s the only bit of Queer cinema that actually works in a film that is otherwise just plain queer.
Country: United Kingdom
Duration: 92 min
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