The Magnificent Seven (1960)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Genre: Western Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.

Release Date: October 23rd, 1960 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: John Sturges Actors: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Rosenda Monteros, Rico Alaniz, Horst Buchholz

 


 

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t’s a nearly impossible thing to best Akira Kurosawa’s classic Japanese epic “Seven Samurai.” But the thundering, rousing music by Elmer Bernstein is a stupendous start for this Americanized, Western take on one of the greatest of filmic imports. In shifting locations, time periods, and languages – along with several plot elements – this rugged, action-packed adaptation (by William Roberts) is, on its own, a staggering success. Although it doesn’t deviate from Kurosawa’s basic premise, “The Magnificent Seven” undoubtedly has an identity all its own.

Calvera (Eli Wallach, playing as ruthless and conniving a character as ever before), a bandit leader unafraid to rob from the dirt poor, rides into a small village to once again steal supplies from Sotero’s (Rico Alaniz) community of farmers, who are barely able to feed their families. And anyone rash enough to oppose Calvera is immediately shot. This routine causes many of the townsfolk to consider leaving the valley, or hiding food, or begging for leniency; staying is considered a slow suicide.

Upon the advice of the wise elder, three of the men journey to the border town to buy guns to defend themselves. “We don’t know how to kill,” they insist. “Then learn … or die,” responds the elder. In town, they’re quickly treated to a grand, foreign spectacle: Dodge man Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner, dressed all in black, but still undeniably a champion of incorruptibility) and Tombstone traveler Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) volunteer to drive a hearse up to Boot Hill to bury Old Sam the Indian, a corpse unfit to be inhumed amongst the deceased members of the bigoted, predominantly white citizens who run the area. But after a few well-placed gunshots by a duo clearly comfortable with firearms, the procession is allowed to finish their task.

This exciting, significant act perfectly defines the heroes – men who don’t think twice about doing the right thing, even if it puts their lives at risk. The audience never does learn anything more about their backstories or origins or even the reasons for their chance meeting, but it doesn’t matter. They may be Western character stereotypes, but these roles couldn’t be better suited for a cinematic clash of good against evil. No time or subplots are wasted on painting portraits beyond what is minimally necessary (though once the battling starts, there are opportunities for bravery, fear, regret, conviction, and other details on psychological stability). Each character is distinct – and unshakably righteous – but shrouded in mystery.

Adding to the leading duo are other typical players, but they too are the types of gunslinging ruffians that need little more than a bold entrance. Harry (Brad Dexter) thinks there are hidden fortunes to be won; O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) is an expensive hired gun, but doesn’t have any prospects at the moment; Britt (James Coburn) is the silent type, but faster with his knife than an opponent is with a firearm; Lee (Robert Vaughn) is a solid shot and a man on the run; and Chico (Horst Buchholz) is a headstrong, overconfident, reckless young man – the kind that isn’t worth recruiting, but comes in handy when he refuses to be excluded from the accumulation of seven rather magnificent men. There’s more than enough nobleness, skill, and daredevilry to go around.

Whether a test of pride, desperation, competitiveness, risk, camaraderie, or even just the amusement of the stupefying odds (40 against 7), the motives and actions of this gathering of warriors is a nonstop source of entertainment. It’s difficult not to root for these underdogs (particularly as they confront a murderous bully), even though their proficiency with deadly weapons places them at a decided advantage – not unlike the ragtag assemblage of antiheroes that would eventually populate “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Wild Bunch” (and, to a lesser degree, “The Great Escape,” which would reunite three of the main cast members). Preparations, booby traps, and the element of surprise all combine for a steady build to a boisterous climax, where death and destruction are certain to befall the stalwart fighters – along with a touch of romance, a bit of humor, plenty of suspense, and Bernstein’s theme music at all the right spots. Brilliantly, the film isn’t as simple as a band of professional gunfighters facing off against bandits for a just cause; there are twists, escalations, and situation reversals that make them all come to terms with their identities and egos. When things get really tough, these seven men can’t be bothered with the sensibilities of self-preservation – it’s about standing their ground and challenging wickedness, solely because that’s what the good guys do.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10