The Magic Christian (1969)

The Magic Christian (1969), directed by Joseph McGrath, written by Terry Southern and Joseph McGrath with additional material by John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Peter Sellers, based on a novel by Terry Southern, starring Ringo Star and Peter Sellers

Two men, in very different kind of places in life, wake up in the morning. Youngman (Starr) is poked up awake with a stick after a night well spent in a sleeping bag in a park whereas Guy Grand (Sellers), the richest man in the world, wakes up to a cup of coffee in his bed. Youngman slums around London, doing nothing much whereas Guy goes about his business life until the two finally cross paths on a bridge, where Youngman is feeding birds.  Guy joins him, the two talk for a while and soon Guy adopts Youngman and presents him to the world as his new son.

From this rather interesting twist of a beginning, starts a satirical, often absurd, black comedy, where Guy and Youngman Grand begin a  series of practical jokes all based around money and the greed of the people. Most of the jokes are played on those better off and the whole point of the movie is, that everyone has a price if you want to play out your own whims, no matter if you want to purchase an expensive painting just to deface it or make people literally waddle through pigs urine, excrement and blood to for some free money.

It's not all about money though, as there are several jabs towards racism as well as sexual norms of the decade the movie was done in. The upper class of England is portrayed as pompous fools, who treat others poorly and are not above of racial remarks or judging others because of their sexual orientation. In a true double standard, those same, conservative men are more than willing to take a glance towards actions they might publicly deem to be not moralistic.

So, practical jokes and jabs towards the status quo of the era the movie were made in, the case here is the late 1960's. The further the practical jokes go, the more elaborate they are, with the most complex being the maiden voyage of the Magic Christian ship, where the cream of England gather up because it's rumoured to be the social event to be. But before that, we see how Guy disturbs an auction, fires up his board members and ditches them out from the train, handing them only an envelope with their severance, assignments to a new job and a map, so that they can find their way back home from where they are left.

The final prank of the duo is to fill a huge vat with, well, less savoury liquids and matter comes from pigs. They toss a huge amount of cash in it and watch how people are, even after the smell, willing to waddle through it in order to get the money. Really, all essential about the story itself is said in the opening song of the movie, sung by Paul McCartney:

If you want it, here it is, come and get it 
Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm 
make your mind up fast If you want it anytime,
I can give it But you better hurry 'cause it may not last 
Did I hear you say that there must be a catch?"

After the two pranksters have done it all, the next question arises: now what? There has to be a simpler way, Guy ponders and Youngman agrees, leading them back to the park from where he awoke at the beginning. Together they don sleeping bags and get to sleep on the grass. When a park guard comes to bother them, Guy just tosses him some money and the duo continues their sleep, with a promise they can sleep on the grass as much as they want, damn the rules.

Do, yeah, money. If you have it, you are above others in many ways, especially if you have ridiculous amounts of it like Guy does. If you have whims, like you want to hunt birds with artillery, you probably can do that, because everyone has the price that makes them willing to do things they normally wouldn't. Want to deface an expensive painting? Money. Want to make a rowing team crash on the other team and cause havoc? Money. Want to make people go through shit, literally and figuratively? Money. If you want it, come and get it, because it might not last.

On the top Ringo Starr and Peter Sellers, the movie has some pretty notable cameos. In minor parts there are people like Graham Chapman and John Cleese, who also wrote at least one draft of the movie, Christopher Lee, who makes fun of hid Dracula fame, Roman Polanski has a wee part as a drunk and Raquel Welch has a bit role a sexy, whip fielding galley master.

The Macig Christian is not the best-directed or edited movie, as it has some pacing issues as well it has some oddly structured narrative, which all could be chalked down to it being a zany kind of a comedy. But it is a spirited, at times anarchistic movie about the society we collectively have decided to live in. Its conclusions and examples may often borderline naivety or even be naive in full, but it also manages to be an entertaining and surprising movie, that won at least me over with how it presented things.

This is the kind of a movie you can watch and like because of how absurd it is. Of course, if you don't like absurd movies with a very little actual story in them, there's a good chance you won't like the Magic Christian. In some ways, it did remind me of what Monty Python did later on in a bit larger scale with the series and the movies. It doesn't go into similar surrealism, but there is an inkling of kinshipÄ there, probably because Chapman and Cleese did have at least a small hand in writing the script.

If you don't mind the kind of silliness the Magic Christian is, then I do recommend checking it out. It might not blow your mind, but you might get more than a couple of chuckles out of it. And if you don't, well, you'll lose only 90 minutes of your time.