Off the Radar - #1: The Magic Christian

Mr Lime

Distinguished Member
Had a bit of an eye opener over on a couple of other threads discussing remakes, where some members revealed that they hadn't heard of classic films such as Don't Look Now and Night of the Demon, films that I'd assumed would be on everyone's radar.

This got me to thinking that there are films that are far more obscure than those two, that seem to have all but disappeared from the public consciousness and that it might be good to occasionally dig one out of obscurity and hopefully encourage people to take a look.

First up is The Magic Christian, a 1969 release starring Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr and a plethora of guest stars in credited and uncredited cameo roles. Made at the tail end of the decade when the '60s were still swinging, the film is a true product of its time. Cool, hip, innovative, anarchic and mad as a bag of spiders. One of those way-out products of that decade where you imagine everyone involved had popped acid and decided to make a movie!

Adapted from the novel by Terry Southern, the film tells the story of the wealthiest man in Britain, Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers), who for no particular reason takes it upon himself to legally adopt a young homeless man (Ringo Starr) he finds sleeping in a park. Sir Guy then sets out to show his newly adopted son that everyone in the world, from the lowest traffic warden to the loftiest aristocrat, has their price, and will literally do anything for money and do it very publically as well.

This is merely a device to string together an episodic series of hilarious set pieces that take well-aimed pot shots at every establishment sacred cow you can think of. The humour is pitch black and often quite brutal, but the targets are always well chosen. The cast contains a veritable Who's Who of British comedy, as well as some rather big names in British and international cinema, often in uncredited cameo roles. Many famous TV personalities and presenters of the era such as Michael Aspel, Alan Whicker, Harry Carpenter, Michael Barrett and Henry Cooper also appear as themselves.

There is a Pythonesque element to the humour which is hardly surprising as an early draft of the screenplay was written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, both of whom appear in the film. Although the screenplay was extensively rewritten, several of Cleese and Chapman's pieces remain. There is even a Terry Gilliam animation to be seen at one point in the film.

Apart from the presence of Starr there is a strong Beatles connection to the film. The Beatles' Apple Corps had some money in the production and the theme song to the film, Come and Get It was a Lennon & McCartney composition specially written for the project and performed by Apple band Badfinger. The famous crashing piano climax from the end of The Beatles A Day In The Life is also used on the soundtrack, and Denis O'Dell, producer of A Hard Days Night also had the producer's chair on the film.

One notable feature of the film was how it pushed the censorship envelope. Back in 1969 the BBFC had three film certificates, 'U', 'A' (the equivalent to PG) and 'X' for over 16s only. There was a considerable pre-release buzz around the film, which was shaping up to be one of the "must see" releases of the year and I remember as a child seeing a double page spread from The Magic Christian in The Sunday Mirror showing Raquel Welch as The Priestess of the Whip in a ship's galley with 100 topless women chained to oars. I remember feeling totally gutted as that picture alone screamed 'X' certificate, meaning I wouldn't be able to see this highly anticipated film. Imagine my glee when the film was, somewhat amazingly, released with an 'A' certificate.

It was something of a miracle that the film received such a low rating as it not only pushed the envelope of the 'A' category, but burst right through it with its depictions of homosexuality, language, nudity and violence as well as a lavatorial climax that made some grown men almost bring up their breakfast. Indeed The Magic Christian was one of several contentious "borderline" films at the time that prompted the BBFC to introduce the 'AA' certificate (over 14s only) the following year. The material was undoubtedly very strong for its category in 1969 and this was reflected in the BBFC's reclassification of the film as 15 for its 2006 DVD release.

Well worth a look, both as a first class comedy and a time capsule of its era, when the British establishment and its class system were being well and truly knocked for six.

The Magic Christian is available on a US Blu Ray form Olive Films and on a UK DVD from Universal.


One of John Cleese and Graham Chapman's pieces that remained from their screenplay...

Yes, that is film director Roman Polanski whom the blonde is singing to at the bar, but keep a very close eye on the blonde as she finishes her song...

Sir Guy nobbles a performance of Hamlet with Laurence Harvey playing Laurence Harvey playing Hamlet...

Spike Milligan gets spiked. Who wouldn't love to do this to a traffic warden...

Trailer (SPOILER ALERT: Don't watch this before you watch the above clip with Roman Polanski and the blonde singer)



Distinguished Member

Yes, a great, groundbreaking film but what has it to do with The Magic Christian?

This thread is for the discussion of The Magic Christian specifically, not for general discussion of all "off the radar" films.

Any chance you could remove your post please Captain? Thanks. :)
Done. I read your first post in it's entirety and still thought it was about films 'off the radar'.

Mr Lime

Distinguished Member
Thanks. :smashin:

No, it's specifically to focus attention/discussion on this film, that's why I put the title of the film in the thread. I'm intending to do the same with other films each with their own thread, hence the #1.

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