DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Magnificent Seven

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven (1961) dir. John Sturges
Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, Brad Dexter, Charles Bronson


By Alan Bacchus

I won’t even compare The Magnificent Seven to the Seven Samurai, the legendary Akira Kurosawa epic that inspired this remake. The fact is, despite the difference in quality, Kurosawa’s film was ripe for adaptation. The Western frontier setting closely resembles feudal Japan, and the bushido code of honour serves as the unwritten form of law that governs the motivations of the heroes of the western genre. Though immensely popular and successful, John Sturges’ film is so remarkably straightforward and uncomplicated, and thus merely watchable, compared to other more revered American westerns of its era.

The poor Mexicans in this film are victimized with maximum sympathy, and the American heroes are characterized as honourable knights riding in to save the day. In the opening scene a Mexican village is raided by malicious bandits led by a particularly nasty looking Eli Wallach. It’s an annual ritual for these poor people, and now for three of the humble residents it’s time to fight back. But gosh darn-it if they don’t know what to do. And so, they take advice from their respected elder, who tells them they need guns!

After travelling to the local town, they discover there are men to hire who do this kind of work, two of whom are Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen). These characters are introduced boldly confronting some racist gunslingers protesting the burial of an Indian in their graveyard. After their courageous confrontation, the three Mexicans quickly sign up Chris and Vin, who then go about finding four other worthy hands to complete their team. The others include the knife throwing expert, Britt (James Coburn), the gentlemanly northerner, Lee (Robert Vaughn), Chris’s old buddy, Harry (Brad Dexter), and Irish-Mexican strongman Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson). The seventh member, as in Kurosawa’s film, is the wannabe slinger, Chico (Horst Buchholz), who tags along and proves himself worthy and courageous despite the doubts of the others. While staying in the Mexican village the heroes ingratiate themselves with the local women, who of course see the men as heroic saviours and subservient to their desires.

Several steely-eyed, tense confrontations provide some decent action scenes, but everything is played so on-the-nose with absolutely no subtext or shades of grey in between. This is typical of most of John Sturges’ late career work as an action director who became an expert at big action films with large casts (e.g., The Great Escape).

The Magnificent Seven delivers on what it aspires to be, an uncomplicated showcase for its ensemble of actors for the brain-dead populace. It’s a popcorn movie – a low-risk exercise in studio filmmaking. But sometimes we all need some meat and potatoes to fill us up, and The Magnificent Seven just barely satisfies this appetite. Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score and the strong actors filling those seven Magnificent roles makes it all watchable. But that’s all this film is – watchable.

The Magnificent Seven is available on Blu-ray from MGM Home Entertainment.

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