The Magic Christian (1969)

The_Magic_Christian_(1969)‘My Second World War Nazi Atrocity books came at last…’

A peer of the realm and multi-millionaire adopts a homeless young man after they feed birds in the park together. When introducing him to a new world of privilege and decadence, he teaches his prodigy a few important life lessons…

Freewheeling satire on greed and materialism that attempts to capture the spirit of the late 1960s. Peter Sellers headlines as Sir Guy Grand, the richest man in the world. On the surface he seems to be a mild-mannered, foppish old gent, but he’s intent on demonstrating the evils of money to his new ‘son’; a sleepwalking Ringo Starr.

This is a heavy handed satire at best, fragmenting into a series of rather laboured,  disconnected sequences rather than a developing plot. By the time posh city gents have gone swimming in a vat of sewage for pound notes, the point’s already been hammered home with such remorseless repetition that any real impact has been lost. The screenplay, taken from his novel, was by Terry Southern; better remembered these days for ‘Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’ (1964), ‘Barbarella’ (1967) and ‘Easy Rider’ (1969). Additional material is credited to Pythons Graham Chapman and John Cleese (who also appear) and it’s interesting to speculate if the restaurant scene with Sellers may have inspired the ‘Mr Creosote’ section of ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ (1983).

The_Magic_Christian_(1969)

Ringo’s new solo career had taken a brave new musical direction…

On the plus side, there is an endless parade of faces familiar to UK audiences; including top comedy talent such as Hattie Jacques, Frank Thornton, John Le Mesurier, Spike Milligan, Clive Dunn and Patrick Cargill. We also get some big star cameos: film directors Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski, Yul Brynner (uncredited), Laurence Harvey stripping as he performs ‘Hamlet’ and Raquel Welch with a whip (heavily featured in the advertising even though it’s the briefest of appearances).

Christopher Lee also pops up for no good reason with his fangs and cape to munch ships captain Wilfred Hyde-White, playing his usual clueless old duffer. A string of presenters from British Television play themselves, including Alan Whicker, Michael Aspel and boxing commentator Harry Carpenter!

Viewed today, this is as much a curious time capsule as a film; yes, its heart’s in the right place, but the satire chooses easy targets and keeps hitting them with such relentless determination that the results are pretty wearing. Considering the way in which unchecked political and corporate greed has warped our civilisation over the past 20 years, this is the kind of film that needs to be remade now – only hopefully with a somewhat lighter touch.

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