THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN has a handful of laughs in an otherwise smug and sloppy 92 minutes, an hour & a half of 1969 satire intended to rip holes in the gas balloon of society’s pomposity—Britain, anyway, representing the ‘civilized world’—but mainly serves a star-studded (or loaded) showcase for how good drugs were at the time, particularly for those who could afford them in quantities great enough to waste on a spite dump like this. Way too clumsy and self-satisfied to score with anything beyond sophomoric scorn for everyone not ‘groovy’ enough to be ‘with it’. I remember dutifully trekking to see it with a stoned crew of pals, and laughing as if Beatle-programmed at the ‘daring’ takedown of what we were told was the status quo. Har har: the joke was on us: it’s really just one group of rich, spoiled, connected swells wanking on another.
Terribly directed by Joseph McGrath (he helped ruin 1967’s Casino Royale), who co-wrote (or co-opted) the script with counter-culturist Terry Southern, updating and continent-shifting Southern’s 1959 novel, with injecting input spat from John Cleese, Graham Chapman and star Peter Sellers. Sellers and co-star Ringo Starr seem to be enjoying themselves.
On hand to show squares how uncool they/we/you were/are is an assortment of British supporting players with some international/Hollywoody names as poster bait. A few of them are funny (Wilfrid Hyde-White the best), some are embarrassing (Yul Brynner, Laurence Harvey, Roman Polanski), others adrift (Richard Attenborough, Christopher Lee); the biggest half-dressed draw (Raquel Welch) is on screen for about as much time as it takes to read this paragraph.
With Leonard Frey, Spike Milligan, Roland Culver, Edward Underdown, Cleese & Chapman, Ferdy Mayne, Graham Stark, Victor Maddern, Isabel Jeans, John Le Mesurier, Rita Webb. Paul McCartney’s song “Come And Get It” is performed by Badfinger: a relic, by relics, for relics.
Critics were not impressed, and boxoffice was sad, $2,000,000 in the Nam-mired States placing 97th in ’69. Pretend it’s five decades back, you’re fourteen or fifteen and pot cost ten bucks a bag: you’ll think it’s hilarious and ‘deep’.