Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Magnificent Seven

Based on the 1954 samurai film The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa, The Magnificent Seven is the story of seven gunmen hired by small Mexican village to protect them a group of bandits. Directed by John Sturges with a screenplay by William Roberts, with additional work from Walter Newnan and Walter Bernstein, the film is an ensemble piece that revolves around seven different men who are fighting off a bandit trying to wreak havoc in a small town. Starring Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz, and Eli Wallach. The Magnificent Seven is an extraordinary western from John Sturges.

After a group of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) has managed to take everything from a small farming village leaving little food for the village. A trio of farmers want to fight back as they decide to go to the border to buy guns. Instead, they come across a couple of gunfights led by Chris (Yul Brenner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) who managed to fight off a few gunfighters at a funeral service. Impressed, the farmers ask Chris about buying guns where Chris suggests that it’s best to hire gunmen to fight off Calvera as he decides to recruit a group. With Vin joining along, they bring in two veteran gunslingers in Harry (Brad Dexter) and Lee (Robert Vaughn), an Irish-Mexican named Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), and a switchblade-wielding cowpuncher named Britt (James Coburn). Joining them is an inexperienced gunslinger named Chico (Horst Buchholz) who Chris reluctantly lets him be part of the posse.

Arriving at the village, Chris and his men meet with the village and teach the farmers how to defend themselves after encountering a few of Calvera’s men. During this time, the villages and gunmen bond as O’Reilly becomes an idol to a few of the boys while Chico falls for a village girl named Petra (Rosenda Monteros). The gunmen also share the food with the villagers as they eventually meet Calvera who is surprised by what the villagers brought in as a battle ensues. Though Calvera and his group of bandits were forced to flee, things still remain uneasy for the farmers as its leader Sotero (Rico Alaniz) thinks they should stop fighting. Notably as Chico learns what Calvera wants to do as they’re running out of food, the gunmen decides to make a surprise raid only to return to the village where Calvera has taken control. Forcing to flee town, Chris and the gunmen figure out what to do as they eventually decide to fight Calvera and his men for the honor of the villagers.

The film is essentially the story of a group of gunmen who hired by villagers to fight off against a group of bandits and help the villagers defend themselves. It’s a premise that is very simple where the gunmen bond with the farmers but also deal with their own issues as they’re just men that are hired to do a job and try not to get attached. The screenplay by William Roberts is quite faithful to Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai in terms of the psychological aspects of the story as well as the characters. Roberts does make some changes by making it into a western while creating a lead villain in Calvera that is complex in his idea of taking everything for himself and his men while making sure the villagers still get a piece in return. It’s something Chris and the men don’t agree with as they feel there’s a lot of reason to fight for these villagers.

John Sturges’ direction is superb for its wide-open scenery as it’s shot on location in Mexico. While there’s a lot of great scenes involving the action and shootouts that occur that is engaging to watch. It’s the scenes where the men try to plan out everything while they each deal with their own feelings about what they’re doing. The way Sturges frames these intimate moments with medium shots and multi-character shots is to establish that it’s a group that is placing the fates of the farmers in their hands. While some of the film’s melodrama is a bit overdone at times for scenes that involve Chico and his naiveté, Sturges does manage to create a very solid and entertaining western that is very faithful to Akira Kurosawa’s much-lauded 1954 film The Seven Samurai.

Cinematographer Charles Lang does fantastic work with the film‘s photography by providing some vibrant settings for the film‘s exteriors while maintaining an intimate lighting scheme for some of the film‘s interior scenes. Editor Ferris Webster does a nice job with the editing to maintain a leisured pace for the film along with some rhythmic cuts for the film‘s shootout scenes. Art director Edward Fitzgerald and set decorator Rafael Suarez do superb work with the set pieces such as the Texas town that the villagers come across to the more rural but wonderful village that the gunmen start to be entranced by. The sound work of Rafael Ruiz Esparza and Jack Solomon is terrific for the way it plays up the suspense as well as the tense, chaotic atmosphere for the film’s battle scenes.

The film’s score by Elmer Bernstein is brilliant for its swelling yet triumphant orchestral score. Filled with dazzling arrangements and pieces that plays up the suspense, action, and drama, it’s truly the film’s highlight as it’s another of Bernstein’s great scores.

The film’s cast is excellent for the ensemble that is created as it includes notable small roles from Rico Alaniz as village head Sotero, Vladimir Sokoloff as the old village man, and Rosenda Monteros as the young woman Chico falls for in Petra. Eli Wallach is brilliant as the slimy yet complex Calvera who displays a great sense of intelligence who can manipulate anyone into seeing what he’s about as it’s definitely one of Wallach’s best roles. For the roles of the Magnificent Seven, there’s notable standout performances from Brad Dexter as the veteran Harry Luck who is looking for a big payday while Robert Vaughn is superb as the troubled Lee who is dealing with demons from the many gunfights he has. Horst Buchholz is pretty good as the young Chico who is a very determined gunfighter that wants to prove something although when it comes to heavy drama, it’s a bit overdone and quite unbelievable at times.

James Coburn is great as the cool yet switchblade knife-wielding Britt who is very laid-back but also a very cunning and dangerous character that anyone would want in their gang. Charles Bronson is phenomenal as the very resilient yet skilled gunfighter O’Reilly who becomes a reluctant idol to young boys in the village while is just trying to show them that what he’s doing isn’t bravery but survival. Steve McQueen is awesome as the very cool Vin who acts as Chris’ right-hand man who teaches the villagers how to fight while being the most reluctant to help them out as he wonders why should they fight for them. Finally, there’s Yul Brenner in an incredible performance as the leader Chris who sports nothing but black while being the one guy who can take care of things and lead a group to revolt.

The Magnificent Seven is an engaging yet adventurous western from John Sturges. Featuring top-notch performances from Yul Brenner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and Eli Wallach. It’s a film that bears a lot of hallmarks and attributes that fans of the genre can love as well as a story that works to play up the motivations for its lead characters. While it may not have the more complexity and drama of The Seven Samurai, it is still a film that is quite faithful to the Akira Kurosawa classic. In the end, The Magnificent Seven is a superb western from John Sturges.
Related: (The Seven Samurai) - The Great Escape

© thevoid99 2012


Chip Lary said...

I've described Seven Samurai more than once as "a film so great that even it's American remake is considered a classic."

I read somewhere that during filming McQueen would intentionally "fiddle" with his hat to try to draw attention to himself and that this drove Brynner crazy, to the point of him having someone monitor how much McQueen was doing it.

thevoid99 said...

Oh, that is a nice bit of trivia.

I wouldn't call The Magnificent Seven a classic but I do think it's a great western despite the few flaws it has.

Unknown said...

Yes the "hat fiddling" McQueen was quickly put in his place by Brynner when he came back with, "Do it one more time and I remove my hat in every scene we are together!"

Unknown said...

Yes.....but Yul Brynner was quick to respond to McQueen's "hat fiddling" by telling him if he did it one more time, then Brynner would remove his hat!!!!

thevoid99 said...

@RonMcNamara-That is nice to know.

Unknown said...

Wow! I didn't know that.