The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Review

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven isn’t a great movie, but it is a very cool movie. An explanation: Schindler’s List is a great movie, but I think we can agree that we’re not going to spend a Saturday afternoon with the guys eating chips and running lines from Spielberg’s tribute to the Jews. Watch an hour of The Magnificent Seven and you’ll pop open another can of Pringles and consider buying a six-shooter.

A cowboy retelling of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, the movie takes place in a Mexican farming village which has been overrun by bandits. The outlaws take the villagers’ food, making a grueling life that much tougher. Tired of getting pushed around, several men consult the resident wise old man. ‘Fight, you must fight,’ he says.

The men head to the states in the hopes of finding guns, but while riding through a sleepy town they discover two hombres, Chris (Yul Brenner) and Vin (Steve McQueen), who, facing gunfire and bad odds, manage to get an Indian a proper burial. The villagers ask Chris to help them get guns, but he convinces them to hire men.

Chris starts chasing people down. He finds Vin, on the verge of taking a job at a grocery store. An old friend (Brad Dexter) joins up solely because he believes money or some kind of booty has to be involved (it isn’t). Britt (James Coburn) brings a knife to a gunfight… and wins. Lee (Robert Vaughn, overacting as usual) takes the job so he can at least get paid while on the lam. O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) is a pro henchman facing hard times. And Chico (Horst Bucholz) gets added because he just won’t take no for an answer, and the studio evidently wanted to attract a teenage audience.

These seven men stay at the village for weeks, teaching the villagers how to fight, while preparing the town for the bandits’ arrival. In that time, the timid farmers learn that they do indeed have the ability to fight back, while these grizzled gunfighters find some humanity. There’s a lot of fun in The Magnificent Seven – gun fights, McQueen and Coburn’s easy confidence, a boatload of great lines (‘Do you have an older, grateful sister at home?’), Vaughn dressed like a dandy fop at a costume party. What makes it so compelling is that director John Sturges and writer William Roberts humanize the gunmen. Tough guys do have regrets and fears; they just do a hell of a better job hiding them than the rest of us. It also makes it that much easier to root for them.

What hinders the movie is some questionable casting. I like Eli Wallach, and I know that Americans in 1960 were not exactly keen on seeing ethnic actors on screen, but the casting of him as the bandit leader is more than a little distracting and insulting. Vaughn is a waste and Bucholz’s overzealous shtick gets old real quick, especially when the stoic tough guy auras of Brenner, Bronson, and Coburn more than suffice. And do we really need a love interest thrown in? Still, the cool rises to the top. Get the Pringles ready.

The DVD includes commentary by the late Coburn, Wallach, and various crew, plus a making-of flick.

A new Collector’s Edition DVD adds a second historical commentary track, plus a second DVD of extras, feature on making-of featurettes.

How the west was won.