They fought like seven hundred.
The Magnificent Seven (released in 1960) is an American western directed by John Sturges which is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai, which in turn took its inspiration from American westerns.
Seven Samurai is often hailed by film critics as one of the greatest films ever made but I’ll will be upfront in saying I actually much prefer The Magnificent Seven !
Although there’s lots to admire in Seven Samurai I have always found its 200 minutes plus running time a bit of chore to sit through. IMHO it could have done with some editing to trim it down as it tends to be very slowly paced in a number of sequences for an epic adventure film. In addition, I have never cared for the Japanese exaggerated style of acting.
Whereas The Magnificent Seven, at just over 2 hours long, manages to tell pretty much the same story with much tighter story telling; plus it boasts one of the finest music scores (composed by Elmer Bernstein) ever committed to a movie and has a cast of soon-to-be Hollywood heavyweights to die for.
The story is simple enough where seven gunmen are hired to protect a small Mexican village from a group of marauding bandits led by Calvera, played with relish by Eli Wallach, who seems to be fine-tuning his Mexican bandido persona for his iconic performance as Tuco in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
Leading the gunmen is Chris, superbly played by Yul Brynner, which for me, is his finest role. Brynner was a charismatic Russian-born actor who, he is probably best known for his role in The King And I, but I have always found it to be a very stagey performance whereas here he is superlative as the under-stated leader who knows his profession as a gunfighter is disappearing with the Wild West but he doesn’t want to quit yet and finds a new purpose in life in defending the villagers.
Supporting Brynner is a young Steve McQueen, in a scene-stealing role as Vin who becomes Chris’s friend and ally.
There’s a line in the movie where Brynner and McQueen are pondering walking out on the deal, and Brynner says words to the effect “we had an agreement” to which McQueen replies philosophically “not any agreement a court would enforce” and Brynner’s response “that’s just the kind of promise you’ve got to keep”. Its virtue has resonated with me ever since. Words on paper delivered with Brynner’s trademark, authoritative and unique voice make it, for me, unforgettable and just what this narrative is all about.
Its moments like the aforementioned where director Sturges manages to elevate the film above mere Hollywood fodder, and successfully conveys the essence of Seven Samurai into the consciousness of Western audiences. Spurs, holsters and six-shooters translate a very rewarding tale into something we can all appreciate.
The first meeting between Chis and Vin is memorably staged.
The other cast members completing the Seven are Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter.
Steve McQueen was still on TV making Wanted – Dead or Alive. He was an emerging star but Yul Brenner was the primary draw. Looking back, the majority of the Seven plus Eli Wallach as the villain went on to become very successful actors. McQueen, as well as James Colburn and Charles Bronson became headliners, and Robert Vaughan had a very successful run as The Man From Uncle on TV. When you think about it, there have probably not been too many other movies that have a cast that includes so many future stars early in their careers.
The film ends with one of the great western gunfights as the Seven return to the village for one final showdown with Calvera and his bandits where only three of the Seven manage to survive.
Unfortunately the film was only a moderate success on its release in the US, albeit it was a big hit in Europe. Its disappointing box office performance was largely attributed to its rather downbeat ending, something which director John Sturges ensured he did not repeat with his 1963 film The Great Escape (which featured many of the same cast and crew as The Magnificent Seven) which again could have ended on a somber note but Sturges added a final uplifting coda which ensured the film was a hit.
The Magnificent Seven spawned a number of sequels, none of which came close to the original and it was forgettably remade in 2016 with Denzel Washington.
The dialogue, the music, the scenery, the outstanding cast and direction all come together in a perfect alignment me to rate the film as one of my top five favourite westerns of all-time.
and the tease for next weeks post . . . Tears in rain.