Directed by: Joseph McGrath
Starring: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Isabel Jeans, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Spike Milligan, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee
The Magic Christian (1969) was mostly villified on its original release. Words like “tasteless” and “incomprensible” were thrown around very freely indeed. Time, however, has been kind to the film. Its reputation has grown considerably—though not to the point that it has entirely lost its controversy. And that’s a good thing, since a non-controversial Magic Christian would not be in the least desirable. This is a film that was meant to polarize viewers—and it still does. Consider that it is a film that steadfastly refuses to ever explain its plot or assign a point to any of what happens. Its trailer is in the same key, since it refuses to tell the viewer who or what “The Magic Christian” is, leaving the deliberately provocative title provocatively unclear. The film itself doesn’t reveal what it is until late in the proceedings and leaves the “why” of the name choice entirely up to the viewer. What we know from the outset is that Sir Guy Grand is filthy rich (and eccentric) and that Youngman (Ringo) is a young man Sir Guy meets in the park—and immediately adopts. From there—well, the viewer is asked to follow their adventures and make sense out of them. If you can, it’s exhilirating in its utter anarchy. If you can’t, it’s probably frustrating. But you’ll never know till you try—and even if you have tried, there are so many subtle jokes in the film that you almost certainly didn’t get them all. And there’s John Cleese and Graham Chapman, three Badfinger songs, and Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air,” too.
The Asheville Film Society will screen The Magic Christian Tuesday, June 7, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther. Hanke is the artistic director of the A.F.S.