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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN (1969)

Hipster author Terry Southern, with DR. STRANGELOVE/’64 and EASY RIDER/’69 barely behind him, comes off as a spent force, unfunny & undisciplined, in these grungy vignettes on the price of corruption from his 1958 novel. Peter Sellers is the eccentric zillionaire who adopts park vagrant Ringo Starr to gad about, bribing everyone they meet to prove they can bribe everyone they meet. But the targets are all sitting ducks, low level officials, pompous twits & authority figures, while Southern & Co. seem utterly clueless to the basic snobbery underlying their scams. Briefly, a sketch at Sotheby’s starts working (John Cleese puts in a welcome appearance and brings some comic technique along with him), but it soon collapses under Joseph McGrath’s all-thumbs megging. (His feature film career pretty much stopped here, as did Ringo’s acting gigs & even Sellers fell into a six-year slump.) Lots of famous folk show up in brief, laugh-free cameos (a hip thing to do at the moment), but it’s name-dropping at best. Even cinematography legend Geoffrey Unsworth comes to grief with an ugly grainy look unlike anything he did before or after. Pass.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Southern’s counter-culture voice is far better caught in Buck Henry’s adaptation of the novel CANDY/’68. While certainly no better as film (it may even be worse!), it has a unique tone to it. And rather more than that in a remarkably funny sequence with Marlon Brando as a skinny guru, as if sending up APOCALYPSE NOW/’79 before the fact.

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