Monday, December 3, 2012

Film Review: The Magic Christian (1969)

I'm not going to pretend that this is a good film, but it can be enjoyed in bits and pieces, rather like a box of chocolates that has too many squishy, fruity selections but does have a few chocolate-covered almonds. The good bits in The Magic Christian are the Monty Python sections. Yes, this film almost qualifies as the first Monty Python film. Graham Chapman and John Cleese have small roles and also contributed to the screenplay. There's also a short piece of animation in the film that I'd swear was by Terry Gilliam, but his name isn't anywhere on the credits.

Peter Sellers plays Sir Guy Grand, a wildly eccentric English millionaire who sets out to prove that anyone, especially members of the upper classes, will do anything if bribed with enough money. Grand begins the film by adopting a tramp (Ringo Starr) he finds in Hyde Park. The pair immediately begin a campaign of financial terrorism, seeing just how much havoc they can cause with a well-placed bribe. What ensues is a series of skits, each one populated by the cream of Britain's character actors and a fair sprinkling of cameos by various stars. Most of the skits are pretty lame; a lot of so-so ad-libbing from Sellers and other stuff that Monty Python was just about to start doing a whole lot better on TV.

The things that work are two comic bits set at Sotheby's auction house, which were written by Chapman and Cleese, and a scene at an expensive restaurant that feels like a dry run for the restaurant sequence in The Meaning of Life. Other than that there's the odd line or two that works, and some of the character actors show their skills by improving weak material to something that's almost watchable. All in all, this isn't a film that can be recommended, but if you can't get enough of Python-related entertainment it might be worth a look.

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