Classic Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Posted: November 2, 2016 in Action, Drama
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the-magnificent-seven

A group of Mexican villagers are tired of being threatened and intimidated by a band of bandits led by a man named Calvera .(Eli Wallach)  At first, the villagers think they will buy guns, and eliminate the threat themselves.  But one of the villagers talks to gunman Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner) and Chris says men are cheaper to get.  Chris goes to see Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen) who needs the money to pay off gambling debts.  Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) brags about how much he gets paid, but takes the job.  Lee, (Robert Vaughn)  who has just killed two men, will join if Chris pays his room and board for two days.  Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) joins because he thinks there’s a big score of gold at the end of the mission.  Britt (James Coburn) has excellent knife and gun skills, and kills a man with a knife before accepting the mission.  A young Mexican man named Chico (Horst Buchholz) seems a bit overeager to join the six others, but they take him in.

The seven hired guns build traps for Calvera’s gang and train the villagers to shoot.  Bernardo forms an attachment to village kids.  Vin is looking for a woman to have some fun with, but Petra is only interested in Chico.  Calvera attacks and is repelled by the gunslingers, and the villagers.  The villagers think Calvera is finished with them, but will Calvera give up that easily?

The Magnificent Seven is a classic precisely because it’s not a traditional Western.  The “Good Guys” are stone cold killers, and the bad guy talks about feeding and taking care of his gang like they are family.  The Magnificent Seven is based on the classic Akira Kurosawa film, the Seven Samurai.  These hired guns are warriors all right, except they are not fighting for money, they are fighting for honor.  They also start to care for the villagers, even though they are loathe to admit it.  The script even has humor, and the ending is not is quite messy, not the typical Hollywood happy ending.

All of these actors are from the stoicism Hall of Fame.  None of them use a lot of words to get across what they need to get across.  Yul Brynner has the most dialogue because he has to get the seven hired guns together.  Brynner mixes comedy and drama well. McQueen tries to flirt with the ladies of the village and strikes out, so that adds to the humor.  I also learned that McQueen would do little distracting things during Brynner’s scenes, like playing with his gun.  The competition between the actors makes the movie much better.  They actually have good chemistry and the viewer could realistically believe that the two are friend, as well as competitors.  The rest of the cast is made up of really good character actors like Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and James Coburn, who give their characters lots of dimensions. Eli Wallach doesn’t play Calvera as just a straight out bad guy, he adds some gray areas to villainous Calvera.  There is some whitewashing here too, Wallach is Jewish and plays a Mexican, Horst Buchholz is a German, who also plays a Mexican.  It’s sad that whitewashing is still happening in Hollywood, 56 years later.

The director is John Sturges, who also directed the classic WWII POW movie, The Great Escape, also with McQueen, and another unconventional Western, Bad Day At Black Rock, with Spencer Tracy.  In this movie, the cinematography is good, the pacing is excellent, and the performances by all of the actors are excellent.  Sturges deserves a lot of credit for all of these elements.  The score, by Elmer Bernstein is stirring, if ever music gets a viewer in the mood for a movie, this is that movie. There is a 2016 remake, watch the classic instead.

The Magnificent Seven:  Seventh Heaven

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