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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
The Magic Christian (1969)

"If you are prepared to eat that parking ticket, I am prepared to pay you these five hundred pounds sterling."
- Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: February 23, 2003

Stars: Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, Isabel Jeans, Caroline Blakiston, Wilfrid Hyde White
Other Stars: Richard Attenborough, Laurence Harvey, Leonard Frey, Christopher Lee, Spike Milligan, Roman Polanski, Raquel Welch, John Cleese, Graham Chapman
Director: Joseph McGrath

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, mild violence)
Run Time: 01h:31m:55s
Release Date: January 21, 2003
UPC: 017153136043
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-C+C- D-

DVD Review

With the liberating atmosphere of the 1960s came a certain free element in filmmaking. Given a bit to anarchy and wild finales (as best exemplified in the bizarre Casino Royale), the distinctly twisted British sense of humor is a fine fit for such madness. Such is the case with this legendary adaptation by Terry Southern of his own comic novel.

Sir Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) is fabulously rich and given to wild whims. Adopting a young man, appropriately named Youngman (Ringo Starr), whom he finds sleeping in the park, the pair, accompanied by sisters Dame Agnes (Isabel Jeans) and Hon. Esther Grand (Caroline Blakiston) use their fabulous amounts of money to enjoy themselves and in the process thoroughly disrupt the lives of everyone around them. The mayhem culminates in a wacky voyage on the cruise ship The Magic Christian. A huge array of guest stars make brief appearances, such as Laurence Harvey as a strip-teasing Hamlet, a young John Cleese as an art agent and Christopher Lee (when he still deigned to don fangs) as the ship's vampire. Below decks, one finds Raquel Welch as the Priestess of the Whip overlording the (nude) galley slaves.

When I first saw this picture decades ago, I was left quite cold, but exposure to Monty Python's Flying Circus has since given me a finer appreciation for the episodic nature of the picture. That's not surprising, considering the "additional material" credit given to later Pythons Cleese and Graham Chapman (the latter of which also appears, in an uncredited bit as head of the Oxford rowing team bribed by Sir Guy). If one approaches the film as a series of vaguely connected skits and doesn't really worry about trying to find anything resembling a formal story, it becomes far more enjoyable. A bit of political commentary is added with footage of 1960s riots intercut with Sellers playing baroque harp and Starr on the recorder. And of course, there's the classic Paul McCartney song Come and Get It (performed by Badfinger, doing their best Paul imitation), which is possibly the most fondly remembered aspect of the film.

The mercilessly hammered theme is the corrupting and venal influence of money, from the opening closeup of a ten-pound note set to God Save the Queen to the coda that finds black-suited businessmen groping for bills in a giant vat of urine and swill. Not exactly subtle, but the film does offer numerous laughs along the way, helped by Sellers' affinity for dialects and Ringo's deadpan innocence. Though the script is a notorious mess, at least it's an enjoyable mess. Among the best bits are that Hamlet sequence (after Harvey begins, "To be—", Ringo with perfect timing interjects, "I've seen it."), a satire of dog shows and a take on duck hunting using heavy military weaponry. "Nothing like a good clean kill, eh?" Most of the guest star appearances are nothing more than tiny walk-ons, with blink-and-you'll-miss them appearances by Richard Attenborough and Roman Polanski.

While not for all tastes, fans of British humor will find much to be amusing here. The running time is about eight minutes shorter than indicated on the keepcase, but this appears to be an uncut print and simply a print error.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The film is presented in open matte. When zoomed on a 16:9 set, it appears framed perfectly. The transfer quality is decent, although there is a fair amount of alias and shimmering, particularly on the opening sequence featuring the engraved banknote. Although the color scheme is dated, the color richness and accuracy is reasonably decent and there is a fair amount of detail. Some grain is present but not a distracting amount. A proper widescreen rendition would have been preferable, but this will do in a pinch.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: While the dialogue is mostly clear, there are moments that are quite murky and a strain to make out. A fair amount of crackle and noise is also present, betraying the age of the source material. The music overall is distorted and tinny, and at times quite shrill. There is also a brief warbly spot. Some bass effects seem to be unnaturally boosted, resulting in an unpleasant boomy quality at times. Passable, but only just.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Absolutely nothing is present for extras. Subtitles would have been most welcome to assist in the more difficult dialogue moments. Chaptering is reasonably thorough, but that's all that can be said for it.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A wacky 1960s romp on the theme of the evils of money, with fun turns by Sellers and Starr. The transfer is adequate, though open matte, but nothing at all for extras.


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