Movie Diary 8/18/2019

The Magic Christian (Joseph McGrath, 1969). I saw this movie at the Neptune theater on its first (possibly second) run, a matinee that provided one of the truly baffling moviegoing experiences of my youth. Today, having recently read the Terry Southern novel (a very funny book indeed), I thought I would give another look. I can understand why my young self was baffled – the movie is so incompetent at the basic things, it doesn’t even establish what the world’s richest man, that grand guy Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), is doing with his money-related pranks. The whole enterprise is ragged, a series of mostly chaotic gags, a feeling enhanced by weird cameos (Yul Brynner in drag singing “Mad About the Boy” to a silent Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch whipping the topless galley slaves, Laurence Harvey as a striptease Hamlet). John Cleese and Graham Chapman, who also appear, worked on the screenplay, although Cleese says in his memoir that their stuff was over-written by Sellers. Despite the general clumsiness, Sellers has his share of good, withering moments, and Ringo Starr is pleasant to have around (a character not in the novel: Guy Grand’s adopted son). The deployment of two songs, Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” and Badfinger’s McCartney-penned “Come and Get It,” is swell. The attack on propriety and wealth has a vicious undertone that ran through British comedy of this era, and is bracing to see 50 years on; maybe the movie looks better today than it did circa 1970 because we’ve so completely capitulated to the worship of rich people now. A worthwhile re-encounter, in any case.