Magic Christian, The (1969)

Magic Christian, The (1969)

“The old values are crumbling.”

An eccentric billionaire named Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) adopts a homeless young man as his son (Ringo Starr), and then proceeds to spend large amounts of money bribing people into doing his whims — ultimately proving that money really can buy just about anything.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Christopher Lee Films
  • Counterculture
  • Father and Child
  • Laurence Harvey Films
  • Millionaires
  • Nonconformists
  • Peter Sellers Films
  • Raquel Welch Films
  • Richard Attenborough Films
  • Ringo Starr Films
  • Roman Polanski Films
  • Yul Brynner Films

This loose adaptation of Terry Southern’s 1959 comic novel is unambiguous in its relentless skewering of capitalism and corruption — though it’s challenging to know exactly what to make of this perspective, especially since Sellers’ character isn’t sympathetic and we wish he would spend his money in more productive and charitable ways. DVD Savant is clearly not a fan of this flick, writing that “despite the fact that some find this show absolutely hilarious, it all just sits there, daring us to pick about for whatever scraps of inspiration can be found in the wreckage.” He adds that “There isn’t much shock value here, only a mild crudity that only makes the film seem less imaginative.” With that said, some bits stand out as amusing — including the inspired auction scene, and random cameos during final sequences on board the “Magic Christian” cruise ship. Ultimately, however, this one really isn’t for all tastes, and will be of most interest to those who appreciate all manner of zany cinema coming out of the late 1960s.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some creatively surreal imagery and scenes

  • Amusing cameos by a host of big names

Must See?
No. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Magic Christian, The (1969)

  1. Not must-see. Only for cult film fans, who will decipher its pleasures. As per my 4/11/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp and Cult’ (fb):

    “Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?
    Will you walk away from a fool and his money?”

    ‘The Magic Christian’: Terry Southern’s biting novel about everyone having his / her price (which he adapted with director Joseph McGrath) transitioned to the screen with what are now somewhat negligible pleasures – esp. in the film’s less-than-potent first hour (outside of Laurence Harvey’s mirthful appearance as Hamlet – doing ‘To be or not to be…’ as a striptease).

    However, things improve somewhat memorably just before the film’s final, chaotic third: ~ with John Cleese’s typically droll turn as an auction director in the lively Sotheby’s sequence leading to the film’s centerpiece: the maiden voyage of a cruise ship for the elite. Here we meet a pre-‘Boys in the Band’ Leonard Frey as ‘ship physician’ Laurence Faggot (!) and can enjoy cameos by Christopher Lee, Wilfred Hyde-White, a ‘message’-bearing (black and white) ‘Mr. Universe’ duo, a pre-‘Myra Breckinridge’ Raquel Welch already in dominatrix mode, and (most satisfyingly) Yul Brynner in very becoming drag, singing Noel Coward’s ‘Mad About the Boy’ to Roman Polanski – and pretty much running away with the film.

    Paul McCartney’s clever and catchy opening tune (performed by Badfinger) is subsequently subject to unfortunate overkill (the film needed a better film score) but Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ is an inspired choice for the penultimate sequence – the film’s best, and still hilariously powerful.

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