The Magnificent Seven. Several years back I reviewed all four movies (the original and the 3 sequels), and it's been too long. Time for an updated review. The original and still best, one of the best westerns ever and a personal favorite.
South of the border in a small farming village, a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach)
rides in and steals almost everything he and his gang of 40 bandits can
carry, leaving just enough for the village to survive and start all
over again. The villagers decide they've had about enough, riding north
into Texas to buy guns so they can fight back against Calvera's gang.
Instead, they meet Chris (Yul Brynner),
a mysterious gunfighter clad in black who recommends they hire men
rather than buy guns. Chris agrees to help, recruiting six other
gunfighters from varying backgrounds, including an amiable drifter and
gunfighter, Vin (Steve McQueen),
to help out. The money is poor, the mission is more than difficult and
the odds are stacked against them. Chris and the six gunslingers ride
south, ready to help the village and fight off Calvera, odds be damned.
What a good movie. From director John Sturges
(a master of 'Movies for Men'), 'Seven' came along at an interesting
time for the western genre. Things, they were a'changing. Westerns were
becoming more cynical, darker, more introspective, eventually
transforming into the spaghetti western and the folksy,
revisionist westerns of the 1970s. As fondly remembered as 'Seven' is
now, it struggled in theaters in the U.S. upon its initial release,
finding huge success in Europe and Asia before being re-issued in the
U.S. several years later. It is an Americanized version of Akira
Kurosawa's classic film, Seven Samurai, transplanting samurais for wild
west gunfighters. It's interesting for any number of reasons, from the
music to the budding star power on display, the dark tone to the
exciting action scenes. A favorite of mine, a four-star review, and I
won't really debate it. So there!
How about that
casting?!? Much of the cast would go on to become huge stars, but here
in 1960, they were relative unknowns. Brynner was the established star,
The King and I, The Ten Commandments already to his name, and he's the
pulse of the movie. His Chris is the unflappable leader of the group, a
capable gunfighter who's also got all the qualities a leader should
have. Loyal, strong, and tough. McQueen steps up to the plate in his
first starring role. His Vin is easy-going, a drifter looking for work,
quite good with his gun but maybe looking for something else in his
life. Brynner and McQueen had a tumultuous relationship on the set --
McQueen trying to upstage the established star -- but the result is more
than solid. Their chemistry crackles, their scenes together that
perfect dynamic between the commander and his right-hand man. As the
bandit Calvera, Wallach is an effortless scene-stealer, disappearing for
huge stretches only to return with a vengeance.
And then there's the rest of the seven, because Brynner and McQueen weren't enough, right? Right?!? First, there's Charles Bronson
as Bernardo O'Reilly, a half-Mexican, half-Irish gunman who has quite
the reputation for cleaning up nasty jobs and his price is
high...usually. He bonds with three boys from the village who "got him,"
promising to watch over him and care for his grave should he die in
battle. Then, there's James Coburn
as Britt, the laconic, knife-throwing specialist who has few equals
with knife or gun. Coburn says about 30 words the entire movie and
steals every scene he's in. Next, Robert Vaughn as Lee, a hired gun who's lost his edge, convinced he is facing his death. Next up, Brad Dexter as Harry Luck, a friendly gunslinger convinced there's more to the job than Chris is saying. Finally, there's Horst Buchholz as Chico, the young, unproven kid looking to make a name for himself with his more established cohorts.
if that star power wasn't enough to carry a movie, I liked the
characterization of these gunslingers more than anything. That's
something I've picked up on repeated viewings as I got older. The
portrayal of these hired guns is honest, not looking to glamorize these
men. They're tied down by nothing, drift along from job to job, all the
while risking their lives knowing that any job could be their last. What
do they have? Their guns, their horse and maybe most importantly, their
word. 'Seven' boasts one of my all-time favorite scenes, in westerns
and films in general. Given a chance to run from a battle against
seemingly insurmountable odds, they opt to stay. Coburn's Britt famously
says "No one throws me my own guns and says run....Nobody." When
offered the chance to run, Vaughn's Lee is told "Go ahead, Lee, you
don't owe anything to anybody." His answer? "Except to myself." That's
the essence and spirit of the movie. Men in a nasty situation doing
what's right because it's what they should do, what is right. Profoundly simple, it always sticks with me, these men living by their code and what they believe in.
As for the villagers, look for Vladimir Sokoloff as the Old Man, the village patriarch who has little use for the whiny farmers, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos as Hilario, the fiery farmer ready to side with the gunmen, Pepe Hern and John Alonzo his close friends, Rico Alaniz as Sotero, the quasi-mayor of the village trying to weigh all his options and lastly, Rosenda Monteros as Petra, the young woman in the village who takes a liking to Buchholz's Chico. Also look for familiar western faces Robert J. Wilke and Whit Bissell in quick scenes.
More than anything else though, I think what's lasted the longest in the social conscience is composer Elmer Bernstein's
musical score. The soundtrack is one of the all-time greats, the main
theme a whistle-worthy track that will be running through your head for
days. This is what big movie soundtracks can be. They add something to
the movie itself, like a new but essential character. If you're not
familiar with it (and even if you are), listen HERE.
Just a great score, moving, adrenaline-pumping and emotional as needed.
An all-time great score from an all-time great composer.
story covers a lot of ground over its 128-minute running time. The
story is fairly episodic, starting with the essential and entertaining
recruiting of the team, Brynner's Chris seeking the gunmen out for the
job. Each snippet gives each actor his chance to stand out on their own
before becoming part of the group. Coburn's classic introduction
especially stands out. From there, it's one great scene after another,
both as entertainment value but also for delving into all the characters
from the Seven to the villagers to Calvera. There isn't a ton of
action, but the gunplay stands out, two featured sequences as the Seven
tangle with Calvera's gang. It's the final battle that packs the
emotional punch, the odds finally taking their toll on this group of
gunfighters we've come to like and root for. It's a downbeat ending when
you really consider it, but it's the right ending for this story and
Just a great movie. It was a favorite
growing up and always will be. One of the best westerns ever, and an
easy one to recommend for fans of the western genre or for someone just
being introduced to the genre as a whole. A classic, plain and simple.
The Magnificent Seven (1960): ****/****
Rewrite of September 2009 review