Saturday, February 04, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The next-to-last review of the films seen from my 2016 list of 10 Classics is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960).

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a Western remake of Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), as acknowledged in the opening credits.

I haven't yet seen SEVEN SAMURAI, but I thoroughly enjoyed THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It's one of those films which easily separates "classic" from "ordinary"; there are so many charismatic performers, good moments, and memorable touches, particularly the score, that it pretty much defines classic.

It's a simple story told with a great deal of flair. A poor farming village in Mexico is being terrorized by the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his large gang; Calvera regularly robs them of food, and their families are in danger of starvation.

Some of the villagers round up what little they have of value and head north of the border hoping to buy guns, though the farmers have no idea how to use them. Instead, after meeting Chris (Yul Brynner), the villagers hire men...exactly seven of them, to go up against an army of 40 guns. In addition to Brynner, the hired guns are played by Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz. Each man has his own motivations for wanting to sign up for the challenge of such a low-paying, foolhardy job.

Front and center among the large cast is Yul Brynner as the ethical gunfighter, Chris. We all know Brynner from THE KING AND I (1956) -- I even saw him in a revival of the stage production at L.A.'s Pantages Theater as a kid -- but I must say he really blew me away in this. I've seen very little of his work aside from THE KING AND I, and if anyone makes this movie, he does, forceful and fascinating. It's a standout character and performance.

And yet...he's only the top of the list. There's also McQueen, who hooks up with Chris early in the film, determined to see an Indian receive a proper burial in Boot Hill. It's a great sequence, funny, exciting, and immediately telling us all we need to know about the characters; they're instinctively a perfect team, and they'll brave danger to see justice done without any expectation of receiving something in return -- which is important given that they're going to receive the not-so-princely sum of $20 apiece to defend the village.

I especially loved the nonverbal aspects of Brynner and McQueen's performances, such as the back and forth where they number the men they've found for their team on their fingers. Delightful.

One of the other ways the film illustrates that the fearsome gunfighters are good men is in their interactions with children, whether it's Vin (McQueen) and the others sharing their food with the little ones or Bernardo (Bronson) spending time with three young boys, whom he protects to the very end. Was it just me, or did Bronson's "Bernardo O'Reilly" make anyone else think of another Irish-Mexican Western character, Richard Martin's Chito Jose Gonzalez Bustamonte Rafferty from RKO's Tim Holt series?

Even the smaller roles amongst the "seven" are good. Vaughn is memorable as a man of paradoxes, an educated dandy and a gunfighter who's lost his nerve. And how neat to see Dexter, a villain in so many films, have a role as one of the heroes.

Coburn, of course, is always good in Westerns, and Buchholz is interesting in perhaps the film's most difficult role, as a young hothead who might be a little bit crazy and also a little bit of an idiot genius, whether he's rousting the timid locals out of their homes or infiltrating Calvera's camp. Buchholz also handles the movie's romance.

While I had some trouble with composer Elmer Bernstein's previous scores for THE TIN STAR (1957) and SOME CAME RUNNING (1958), finding them overly bombastic and obtrusive, I had no such issues with his very memorable score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. It's definitely "out in front," almost a character in itself, but unlike the previous films I found the music completely suited to the movie, in the manner of a Korngold or Williams. It gives the film that special "something extra."

Bernstein's score was the film's lone Oscar nomination; knowing how it's stood the passage of time, it's rather surprising to realize it didn't win. That award went to Ernest Gold for EXODUS (1960).

I've enjoyed a great many films from director John Sturges in the past, which are linked below; I encourage exploring his films, which with rare exceptions are entertaining and sometimes outstanding. His work here was certainly as good -- and probably better -- than any of his other films I've had the pleasure of seeing thus far.

Incidentally, I'll be taking a fresh look at Sturges' BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) in the very near future thanks to the new Warner Archive Blu-ray release.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was filmed by Charles Lang Jr. It runs a well-paced 128 minutes.

I watched the 2001 Special Edition DVD release. It's also available on Blu-ray.

There's a trailer available at IMDb.

If I had any trouble at all with the film, it's simply that there was some inevitable sadness at the end. But yep, I'm really glad I finally saw this one.

There's just one film left to review from my list of 10 Classics to see in 2016, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962). I hope to have that review posted in the next few days.

Previous reviews of films directed by John Sturges: THE SIGN OF THE RAM (1948), THE WALKING HILLS (1949), MYSTERY STREET (1950), RIGHT CROSS (1950), THE PEOPLE AGAINST O'HARA (1951), THE GIRL IN WHITE (1952), JEOPARDY (1953), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) (also here), UNDERWATER! (1955), THE SCARLET COAT (1955), BACKLASH (1956), SADDLE THE WIND (1958) (uncredited), THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958), and ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968).


Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi again, Laura!

It would be impossible for me to not want to comment on this film. I saw this on General Release on the BIG screen in 1960 and it blew me away! Perfectly paced, no wasted dialogue, fabulous score that lifts every scene and a great cast, of course.
I view "THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN" as a sort of 'gateway' from the classic westerns of the 50s to the newer approach that was to come as the 60s moved along, though I see it as closer to the former than the latter (a good thing in my view).
When the film first arrived the only big star of the Seven was Yul Brynner. Steve McQueen had made a name starring in his own TV western but it was this film that turned him Mega. His performance,and his interplay with Brynner, had STAR written all over it. Secondary level actors Coburn, Bronson and Vaughn were all turned into big names too in this movie's wake. Only Brad Dexter failed to capitalize.
Yul Brynner was key to the success with his authoritative performance. And of course the film made John Sturges even more bankable!

So glad you finally caught up with it and that it certainly did not disappoint!

2:40 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I love THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. Great Hollywood western fun all the way. But Akira Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI is the real masterpiece. It's no wonder that Hollywood decided to westernize that one.

Also worth noting, in 1980 Robert Vaughn appeared in a Roger Corman production titled BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. It is THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN in outer space. Actually it might be slightly more accurate to say that it's SEVEN SAMURAI in space.

Vaughn essentially plays the same role as in MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS is quite unexpectedly good for what it is -- a low-budget attempt to sneak in on STAR WARS' coattails. I'd never claim it as a classic or anywhere near the equal of either of its forebears, but among the many cheapjack movies which came flooding in following STAR WARS, it might be the best.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I love how much you love this movie -- and how great you saw it on a big screen!! It's fun to think of the cast as mostly not yet big stars. The Brynner-McQueen interplay really makes the movie. And that's a great description of it being part '50s style, part '60s.

Rick, I have the Criterion SEVEN SAMURAI, picked up in one of the last sales, and hope to see it later in the year. (Love the anecdote I read that James Coburn was a fan of the Kurosawa film and thus desperate to be in MAGNIFICENT SEVEN.) That's terrific trivia about BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS. I don't remember that one from "back in the day" and will watch for it, sounds kinda fun. Thanks!

Best wishes,

4:40 PM  

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