Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Magic Christian

(UK, 1969)

So we recently saw Candy, a disaster of a comedy, and then moved right on to this, another black comedy from Terry Southern. Peter Sellers is a multi-billionaire who adopts Ringo Starr (who once again proves that he is no movie actor) as his son, and enjoys demonstrating that people will do absolutely anything if the money is right. To prove it, he pays stacks of money to people like Laurence Harvey to play the soliloquy from Hamlet as a striptease. He pays Spike Milligan to eat the traffic ticket he has just issued. He buys a portrait that might be by Rembrandt from an auction at Sotheby’s presided over by John Cleese, just pre-Python, then cuts out the nose. He pays the Oxford rowing team, coached by Richard Attenborough, to attack the boys from Cambridge in their annual race.

The penultimate prank is to persuade many rich and famous people that a cruise aboard the luxury liner Magic Christian is the in-crowd thing that all fashionable people should do this season. Some of the passengers are John and Yoko, and Jackie and Ari. (Impersonators.) Soon increasingly bizarre things are happening. A highlight was the appearance of Yul Brenner in drag. I spotted him just before he pulled off his wig. It is eventually revealed that there was no ship, it was a big phony set on the Thames docks.

What I recall best from both the book and the movie is the construction of a big tank into which blood, piss, and shit from cows is pumped. Then a lot of cash is stirred in, and a sign is put up: FREE MONEY. Soon all the City bankers and brokers in their black suits and homburg hats are jumping in and diving for pounds.

This movie held up a lot better than Candy for me. You gotta admit, wryly, “Yeah, people would do that.” Also appearing are Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, Peter Graves, and Graham Chapman.