Loosely adapted from the novel by satirist Terry Southern, 1969’s The Magic Christian was largely dismissed upon its release as being “messy,” and “incomprehensible.” Fans of the film contend that this was deliberate, that the film was an attempt to create a piece of social satire that was so revolutionary that it turned the establishment on its head. While The Magic Christian has some interesting things to say about corruptibility and greed, the story is ultimately to underdeveloped to be as funny and effective as it could be.
Peter Sellers plays millionaire trickster Sir Guy Grand, who in a moment of unexplained whimsy, adopts Youngman Grand (Ringo Starr) a young man he found sleeping in Hyde Park. The two then go ahead and use Sir Guy’s endless wealth to expose the shallow bigotry and materialism of the Establishment and prove that everyone can be bought. Sir Guy’s efforts to teach the tricks of the trade to his newfound son, turns the film into a series of guest shots for fairly well known actors. Many of these guest shots are downright bizarre. The bit featuring Laurence Harvey (Butterfield 8, The Manchurian Candidate) doing Hamlet‘s famous soliloquy as a burlesque striptease of sorts is a real head scratcher.
The bulk of the celebrity cameos occur in the film’s final twenty minutes, when Guy and Youngman board the luxury cruise ship “S.S. Magic Christian,” where the cream of elite society hang out. However, shortly after they board, everything gets very psychedelic with dwarves hanging out. Christopher Lee as a vampire, Racquel Welch shows up as a whip bearing dominatrix in a galley full of naked female rowers, Wilfrid Hyde White is a perplexed captain, Christopher Lee as a vampire, Leonard Frey as an analyst (named Faggot, this was 1969), Roman Polanski as a bar patron. To top things off, three’s an appearance by singing transvestite Yul Brynner that has to be seen to be believed.
While The Magic Christian offers brief moments of fun, it’s too disjointed to be highly recommended. It’s a must-see for big fans of Peter Sellers, and sixties British satire. Given the amount of talent that agreed to appear in this film, one can’t help but wonder why the filmmakers couldn’t do something better with the material. As it, The Magic Christian is little more than a celebrity-filled curiosity.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films 1080p transfer is quite good. Colors look accurate, though they are a bit faded at times. Fine detail is surprisingly good in close-ups. There’s occasional digital noise, and a couple of minor scratches.
The Magic Christian‘s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track serves the film fairly well. Dialogue comes across cleanly, and the score sounds good. If there’s a negative, it’s that some of the songs in the soundtrack don’t have as much heft as we might like.
There are no subtitles are available.
There are no special features included.