The Magic Christian: 1969 movie starring Ringo

After the Beatles films, Ringo Starr made his movie debut in 1968’s Candy, which was based on a Terry Southern novel of the same name. The following year, Ringo would star in another movie based on a novel by satirist Terry Southern, The Magic Christian. It was his first high-profile role.

Directed by Joseph McGrath, the 1969 movie differed greatly from Southern’s novel. In fact, Ringo Starr’s character of Youngman Grand did not exist in the novel. The role was written specifically for Ringo to give the film a Beatles aura. It starred Peter Sellers as Sir Guy Grand, an eccentric billionaire who together with his adopted son (Ringo) spend their time playing elaborate practical jokes on people.

Countless famous actors and actress had bit roles in this bizarre comedy. There is even a brief shot of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

The film had more Beatles connections than just Ringo Starr in a co-starring role. The song’s theme song was “Come and Get It”, which was written and produced by Paul McCartney, and performed by the band Badfinger. Of course, Badfinger was signed to the Apple label at the time. The lyrics of “Come and Get It” were written to showcase the plot of a billionaire bribing people to do bizarre things.

Ironically, the song “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman was prominently used in the film. Lead guitarist on the song was 16 year-old boy wonder Jimmy McCulloch, who four years later would join Wings as their lead guitarist.

Author Alan Clayson perfectly sums up Ringo’s involvement in The Magic Christian in his 1992 book Ringo Starr: Straight Man or Joker: “Another lesson logged for future use by Ringo was how a product’s lack of substance could be disguised with a large budget and employment of the famous.”

The Shiek of Araby: Great Beatles Song!

Years ago when I used to listen to a cassette tape of a “bootleg” of the Decca sessions, “The Sheik of Araby” was one of my favorite song on those audition tapes. Naturally, I was glad that the song was included on Anthology 1 in 1995.

Before 1995, though, I went back to read my favorite novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, after not reading it for many years. I was shocked to read that Fitzgerald included lyrics from the song in his famed novel. This sparked my curiosity in the song.

The novel was published in 1925, but set in the summer of 1922 in New York City and Long Island. On page 78 of the novel, Fizgerald wrote, “The sun had gone down behind the tall apartments of the movie stars in the West Fifties, and the clear voices of the little girls, already gathered like critics on the grass, rose through the hot twilight:

I’m the Sheik of Araby
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep

The song was composed in 1921 by Harry Smith, Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder. The song was written to capitalize on the furor created by Rudolph Valentino’s role in the hit movie The Sheik.

The song became a jazz favorite as well as a staple of pop culture in that time. While the song became a New Orleans jazz standard, “Araby” did not refer to the small town of Arabi, Louisiana, but rather the Arabian Peninsula.

The song has been recorded by countless artists. It was part of The Beatles’ stage act prior to their ill-fated audition for Decca records on New Year’s Day in 1962. It is probable that the band was influenced to cover “The Sheik of Araby” by Fats Domino’s 1961 rendition of the tune.

Kudos to George Harrison for brilliant lead vocals. Pete Best provides interesting drumming.

Here is a clip from YouTube: