At last! Finally one of the most hilarious and subversive films to come out of the 1960's is released to home video with the proper aspect ratio. It's sad that we had to wait so long to get a decent copy of The Magic Christian, as the film has an excellent pedigree: it has a screenplay by Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider, Saturday Night Live back in the 70's when it was funny), extra material by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, it stars Pete Sellers and Ringo Starr, the theme was written by Paul McCartney and another song on the soundtrack produced by Pete Townshend, and a veritable slew guest stars. It's also a wildly outrageous satire that is still as pertinent today as it was back in 1969 when it was first released.
The movie doesn't have a real plot, just a series of vignettes strung together showing the adventures of the fabulously wealthy Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) and his recently adopted son Youngman (Ringo Starr) as they make their way through the world revealing the hypocrisies and misplaced values of society (and spending piles of Guy's cash in the process). They take special pride in skewering the upper classes and those who think they're better than everyone else.
As both social satire and a straight comedy, the film is excellent. In one scene involves a fight for the heavyweight title of the world that has been fixed by Guy. He doesn't pay one of them to take a dive however. As the bout begins the two boxers start circling each other and then one spits out his mouthpiece as exclaims "You're too much for me" in an effeminate voice. The two men kiss (off screen) and the crowd erupts, shouting and throwing things at the boxers. The man calling the fight announces that "the audience is disgusted by the lack of violence."
The general theme of the movie is that people will do anything, given the right amount of money. They convince a traffic cop (Spike Milligan) to literally eat a ₤5 ticket by offering him ₤500, and in the climactic scene the pair erects a vat in an empty lot near downtown London, fills it with blood, urine and excrement from a slaughterhouse and throws cash in, announcing that the money if free to whomever is willing to dive in and get it.
They also poke fun at being prim and proper, and the hypocrisy of a lot of societal norms. While hunting with some blue bloods who are touting how they like a quick kill, Guy unleashes a battery of anti-aircraft guns on a pheasant, but none of that compares to the maiden voyage of a new luxury liner, The Magic Christian. Playing up the exclusivity of their voyage and the application process in an ad (including a preemptive apology to those not chosen) the sailing is the social event of the season… or so it would seem except that Guy Grand has his hand in things.
The film also boasts an incredible list of guest stars: Yul Brynner in drag singing Noel Coward's 'Mad About The Boy,' Richard Attenborough as an incorruptible
The only real complaint I have is that the film isn't subtle at all. I can't help but wonder what it would have been like if Stanley Kubrick (who directed Southern's Dr. Stangelove and turned the script into a universally acknowledged classic) would have been at the helm. As it is, the message is driven home with a bit too much force. Even so, it's a great film that's fun to watch.
As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time the movie has been available digitally with its proper aspect ratio in region one (and I assume world-wide). That's a huge deal for fans of the film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image comes from a very nice unrestored print of the movie. It is a vast improvement over the earlier DVD release, but it's not prefect. There are some minor spots evident and some details do get lost in dark areas. These are minor qualms though.
The stereo mix is decent, though the dynamic range isn't as great as I was hoping for. Even so the dialog is easy to discern and the music sounds fine.
Unfortunately, there aren't any bonus features.
This is a great cult classic filled with cutting satire, impressive guest stars, and a lot of deep laughs, and it is finally available in a decent looking print with the correct aspect ratio. Olive has done a wonderful job with this funny film. Highly Recommended.