THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

   Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz, Eli Wallach, Elmer Bernstein (music), John Sturges (director)
   Along with Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), this film has been considered one of John Sturges’s “super Westerns”—blockbuster films with major stars and large budgets made at the end of the classic Western era. Unquestionably, The Magnificent Seven was a major movie event in its time. Today it is primarily seen as a vehicle for the great music of Elmer Bernstein. The theme later became the music for Marlboro cigarettes and the Marlboro Man. Bernstein’s theme with its many variations throughout the soundtrack lend a sense of majesty to the landscape and to the adventure the Seven engage in. The film was the first Western based on a film by Akira Kurosawa, this one being The Seven Samurai (1954) about Samurai warrior-swordsmen defending a 14thcentury village. Sergio Leone revisited Kurosawa works to make A Fistful of Dollars (1964) in the Dollars Trilogy. In retrospect, The Magnificent Seven can be seen as a precursor to the spaghetti Westerns. Abrutal bandit gang led by Calvera (Wallach) intimidates a small Mexican village for years. Fed up, the villagers pool all they have and send a delegation to the border to hire a gunfighter. Eventually, Chris Adams (Brynner) agrees, for his own purposes, and lines up six others to ride into Mexico and face Calvera. The Seven ride through brutal terrain and come across a small village that is regularly terrorized by the banditos. At one point or another, each of the Seven exhibits his own particular skills in killing.
   While the film was a success financially, it never received the critical acclaim of Sturges’s later work because once past the scenery and music and into the characters themselves, all we get are cliches among a grouping of actors that never quite works. James Coburn perhaps presages his later wonderful takedowns, but Yul Brynner is no cowboy or gunfighter. No explanation is given for his thickly affected accent. Horst Buchholz plays an Hispanic character, but he retains his German accent. Steve McQueen was always good in action films but, despite having a background in television Westerns, never did well in cinema Westerns. Eli Wallach’s days as one of the great bad guys of Westerns had not yet happened. He gets little actual screen time here, but he makes the most of it as the embodiment of pure, unmotivated evil, the kind of evil U.S. audiences feared most in their own lives in 1960.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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