Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Magic Christian

The Magic Christian; comedy, UK, 1969; D: Joseph McGrath, S: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Isabel Jeans, Caroline Blakiston, Richard Attenborough, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Laurence Harvey, Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, Yul Brynner

London. The rich Guy Grand adopts a homeless man, Youngman, and introduces him as his "new son". The two watch TV and go hunting, until they decide to find a price for everyone to change his mind: they pay a police officer to eat their parking ticket; buy a Rembrandt painting; cause commotion at an audition; decide to make a boat race "more interesting" by paying a team to crash with a boat and rip it in half; boarding a ship 'The Magic Christian' which ends in chaos after Dracula shows up and the captain is revealed to be drunk; throwing money in a pool full of urine, blood and feces while watching people collect it. In the end, they bribe a park officer to sleep in the park.

Anarchic comedy-grotesque "The Magic Christian" seems almost like a forerunner to the "Monty Python" films, just with less successful jokes. Probably trying to put his friendship with Beatles member Ringo Starr on celluloid, Peter Sellers teamed up with him in a weird, absurdist set of jokes barely passing for a feature length film, an episodic flick without a story that is easily watchable and occasionally fun, yet not very memorable or articulated in what it wanted to say or be. Sellers and Starr are charming, another Beatle, Paul McCartney, wrote a fine song for the film ("Come and Get It") whereas it is almost unbelievable to see a whole list of famous celebrities appearing in cameo roles throughout, no matter how stupid they are written (Raquel Welch's or Yul Brynner's for instance), yet for such a film without a plot (with a vague "critique" of obsession with money) funny jokes are the only product it can rely on, whereas here too many of them seem just plain bizarre or hermetic. However, four jokes really do ignite and are howlingly funny, especially the gag involving a puma "disguised" as a dog for a dog show or the quietly hilarious sequence involving John Cleese as the art house director who displays a perfectly understated comic timing when Sellers' Grand buys a "French Rembrandt" and then proceeds to cut out the nose from the painting. Considering that both future "Python" members Cleese and Chapman are credited as writers of the film, this can be considered as an exercise for their future, more rounded up efforts with TV shows and movies.


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