The Best Films You've Never Seen: 2. The Magic Christian
Film // Jim // 15th September 2011
The Magic Christian//1969//Dir. Joseph McGrath
"I just wanted to see if you had your price - most of us do"
The quality of ´All-Star´ casts just isn´t what it used to be. Take this barking 1969 satire as an example: Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr head up a cast containing the likes of Richard Attenborough, Racquel Welch, Christopher Lee, John Cleese, John Le Mesurier, Spike Milligan, Graham Chapman and that bloke who was the millionaire in Bergerac. Then there are also the cameo appearances by all sorts of stupidly famous people - the stand out moment being when Roman Polanski, sitting at a bar is serenaded by a glamorous transvestite played by Yul Brynner. Oh yes.
Puts the likes of Fast Five boasting about ´The Rock and Vin Diesel together at last´ into perspective.
The interesting thing is that The Magic Christian isn´t some huge epic all-star affair like The Towering Inferno where huge wages were paid to attract all the most famous faces around. This is a rather a sly and chaotic anti-establishment satire - which presumably attracted the stars who wanted to look like they were in on the joke.
With all the subtlety of a manicure carried out using a rusty machete, the film sets out to demonstrate that you can get away with just about anything if you have enough cash.
Sellers as Sir Guy Grand adopts a homeless Ringo Starr and sets about subverting just about every establishment, cultural and social norm that he can think of, using large suitcases of cash to smooth things over after he has sabotaged the Boat Race, turned Hamlet into a striptease or gone grouse shooting with heavy artillery.
The Magic Christian of the title is the most exclusive cruise liner ever built, a trap for the rich and famous - once it sets sail Grand messes with them in any number of ways - most notably involving vampires, naked galley slaves and terrorist attacks.
By the end any slight attempt at tact and guile has gone out of the window, "100 gallons of blood, 200 gallons of urine and 500 cubic feet of animal manure" are all poured into a big vat on the bank of the Thames - a big pile of cash is thrown in and a sign reading ´FREE MONEY HERE´ erected.
As the bowler hatted city types dive into the filth, Grand ponders "A bit literal I suppose, if one goes into it". Quite possibly true, but what seemed like over the top satire 40 years ago now just looks like something that could well end up on TV.
The Magic Christian was adapted from his own book by Terry Southern, who also scripted Dr Strangelove. You can get it on DVD in the UK for a couple of quid, the IMDB page is: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064622/