Thursday, April 26, 2007

Our Favortite heroes and film combined: A grand guy, Sir Guy Grand

Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well...

Sir Guy Grand, as played by Peter Sellers in the film The Magic Christian.


"The lead character in The Magic Christian a 1959 comic novel by author Terry Southern, is Sir Guy Grand an eccentric billionaire who spends most of his time playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, he does not mind losing large sums of money to complete strangers if only he can have a good laugh. All his escapades are designed to prove his theory that everyone has got their price - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay them. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting satire on capitalism and human greed."

"For example, Grand pays the actor playing a surgeon in a live television soap opera to deviate from the script, comment in drastic terms on the bad quality of the show, and walk off the set. In another episode, he secretly buys a respectable New York advertising agency, installs a pygmy as its president and has him "scurry about the offices like a squirrel and chatter raucously in his native tongue" in front of all the top executive staff and their prominent clients. In a third, he buys a cosmetics company and launches a big promotional campaign for a new shampoo which, as it turns out in the end, has a very detrimental effect on those who happen to use it. He also shows up at a safari in Africa with three natives carrying a howitzer. Grand´s final adventure takes place on board the S.S. Magic Christian."


"In the 1969 film directed by Joseph McGrath and starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. It was loosely adapted from Southerns novel.

McGrath's film adaptation differs considerably in content from Southern's novel. Relocated to London in the 1960s, it introduces an orphan whom Sir Guy Grand picks up in a park and on a whim decides to adopt. The role was written with Ringo Starr (who plays it) in mind. A host of British and American actors (see cast) have brief roles in the movie, many playing against type. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting and often heavy-handed satire on capitalism, greed, racism and other human vanities. Notable are the appearances of (pre-Monty Python) John Cleese and Graham Chapman (uncredited), who had written an earlier version of the film script, of which only the scenes they appear in survived.


Their misadventures are designed as a display of father Grand to his adoptive charge that "everyone has their price" - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay. They start from rather minor spoofs, like bribing a traffic warden (Spike Milligan) to take back a parking ticket and eat it (who delighted from the large bribe, eats its plastic cover too) and proceed with increasingly elaborate stunts involving higher social strata and wider audiences. As a father-son conversation reveals, Grand sees his plots as "educational" ("Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well.").

At Sotherby's art auction house, it is proudly claimed that an original Rembrandt portrait might fetch £10.000, yet to director Mr. Dougdale's (John Cleese) astonishment, Grant makes a final offer of £30,000 for it ('Thirty - thousand - pounds? Shit! I beg your pardon, I do beg your pardon!') and having bought it, proceeds, in front of a deeply shocked Dougdale, to cut with his scissors the portrait's nose from the canvas. In a classy restaurant he makes a loud show of wild gluttony, Grand being the restaurant's most prominent customer. In the annual Boat Race sports event, he bribes the Oxford team (where Graham Chapman plays a member of the rowing team) and makes them ram purposely the Cambridge boat, to win a screamingly unjust victory. Grand secretly buys a respectable

Grand and Youngman eventually buy tickets for the luxury liner S.S. Magic Christian, along with the richest strata of society. In the beginning everything appears normal and the ship apparently sets off. Yet soon, things start going wrong. A solitary drinker at the bar (Roman Polanski) is approached by a transvestite cabaret singer (Yul Brynner), Dracula (Christopher Lee) poses as a waiter, a cinema show turns out to be a "documentary" of a chirurgical merging of half a white man's and half a black man's bodies into one. Eventually passengers start noticing through the ship's CCTV that their Captain (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is in a drunken stupor and finally gets carted off by a gorilla. In a crescendo of panic the guests try to find their way to abandon ship. A group of them, led by the Grands, reach instead the machine-room, which turns out to be powered by hordes of topless rowing slaves, under the Priestess of the Whip's (Raquel Welch) command. As passengers finally find an exit and lords and ladies stumble out in the daylight, we discover that the liner had never really left the port. During the whole misadventure, father and son Grand look perfectly composed and cool, as if all this is one more of their pranks.

In the final scene of the movie, Guy Grand wanting to find out how far people can go for money, fills up a huge vat with urine, blood and animal excrement and sprinkles it avidly with paper money. In a choreographic way, a crowd of gents approaches the vat and after some indecision starts stepping in to grab the cash. Having forgotten all sense of disgust many even start taking dives in it.

Reception of the film.

Not surprisingly, most mainstream critics have been quite negative on the film, especially for its extensive use of black humour. Darrel Baxton, in his review for Splitting Image, refers to the film as of "the school of savage sub-Bunuelian satire"[1]. Christopher Null in filmcritic.com states that "it's way too over-the-top to make any profound statement"[2].

Some audiences may find it irritating to watch scenes of a multi-millionaire who has nothing better to do with his wealth than to use it to humiliate people who are much poorer than he is. Sir Guy Grand can easily afford the luxury of wasting his money on bizarre stunts, whereas his victims cannot. The underlying theme of the movie appears to be that people will do anything you request - if you offer them enough money. Of course people were already well aware of this fact back in 1969 when the film was released, which may account for its cool reception."

1 comment:

DeWitte said...

This is one of my absolute favorite movies. Until just now, I didn't know there was a book. Thanks for posting about it.