A couple weeks ago, I finally decided I needed to see the movie The Magic Christian that is mentioned so often in Beatles books when discussing Ringo or the year 1969 when it was filmed and released. After watching the film, I decided to buy a copy of the book to see…well, read the reviews and you’ll understand…
I tried to find this movie on-demand from several outlets, but eventually I ended up renting this movie from Amazon Prime for about $3.99. The opening credits of The Magic Christian could draw anyone in to wanting to see this movie. Besides the author of the book, Terry Southern, the other writers of the screenplay and script include: Joseph McGrath, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Peter Sellers – who also stars in the movie with Ringo Starr. There are guest appearances from Richard Attenborough, Spike Milligan, Roman Polanski, Rachel Welch, John Cleese, Gram Chapman and Yul Brenner. Denis O’Dell, who was the Associate Producer of this film, was also the AP of A Hard Day’s Night, Magical Mystery Tour and How I Won the War. Sounds like a winning line-up, huh? There is even a scene where it appears John and Yoko make a cameo, but when looking at the credits on IMDb, it was just two un-credited actors.
I fell asleep after the first 45 minutes and had to watch the second half the following day! The whole thing seems to want to tell a story, but without explanation as to why. Ringo was heralded for his acting in this film, but he really does nothing more than follow around Peter Sellers, his adopted billionaire dad, Guy Grand, in the movie. Ringo’s lines are limited to mostly just one sentence. The plot – they go around spending millions of dollars making rich and poor people look like asses for being so greedy. But why?
I decided that I needed to read the book for more clarity on the who, what and whys to what was happening on the screen….
So I ordered a used copy of The Magic Christian book which took way too long to arrive (damn media mail!). The book, published in 1959, is just 134 pages and can be easily read in a day. Again…it took me two.
The first difference I noticed between the book and film is that Peter Sellers didn’t match the physical description of his character Guy Grand who was “rather stout”. The various scenarios/scenes portrayed in the movie are in the book, but not necessarily in the same order, sometimes with a little more detail or a little less. And Guy Grand does pull off several more antics in the book.
But the major difference…there is no adopted son (aka Ringo’s character Youngman Grand) in the book! I spent the entirety of my reading waiting for him to pop-up, but he never did. Why? Why did Terry Southern and the other writers decide it was necessary to add this character? Was it just to add a Beatle to the film’s line-up and pull in his fan base? Sure seemed that way to me, but I’ll have to do a little research to be sure. Either way, it didn’t work…the critics hated the movie, but loved the book.
So, did I find my answer to the who, what and why of the film in the pages of the book. No. I’ve read it’s an observance of greed in America, but the film was set in England. Does that mean that the author/screenwriters thinks Brits are as greedy as Americans? I have no clue what he thinks. My advice is, don’t feel obligated to watch or read this story because you’re a Beatles or Ringo Starr fan! And for that reason…
I rate the movie: 1 out of 3 Beetles!
I rate the book: 2 out of 3 Beetles!
3 responses to “Book and Movie Review: “The Magic Christian” by Terry Southern”
The movie seemed to be a melange of acid-induced vignettes loosely strung together. I eventually got the point, although connecting the dots took some imagination on my part.
You missed the main Beatley attraction of this film – the song Come & Get It, written and produced by Paul McCartney for Badfinger.
Ah…yes, you’re right. I did forget to mention that. I guess the film did have some redeeming value! Thank you for mentioning it.