Fifty years ago John Sturges (The Great Escape, The Eagle Has Landed) made a fantastic cowboy film. It was great because it wasn’t your typical cowboy film. The Magnificent Seven was originally released in 1960. This was the end of the height of the Westerns. Sturges’s film was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, Seven Samurai. It is a character and moral drama. At that point in film’s evolution the examination of the morality of being a gunfighter was unheard of. Gunfighters are portrayed as lonely rather than heroic figures. The crossing of new frontiers made this a very influential film.
A band of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Godfather: Part III) repeatedly raid a small Mexican village. The residents of the farming community have had enough, so they decide to hire a band of American gunfighters. They first hire Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner – The Ten Commandments, The King and I), who then hires Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen – Bullitt, Papillon), Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson – The Dirty Dozen, Death Wish), Lee (Robert Vaughn – The Man From U.N.C.L.E., BASEketball), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter – The Asphalt Jungle, Run Silent Run Deep), and Britt (James Coburn – Monsters, Inc., Charade). A young Mexican gunfighter named Hilario (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos – television’s Lonesome Dove) tags along with them. These are seven very talented gunfighters, but the odds are against them. It is seven against fifty – a suicide mission.
Some genre films transcend and become more than merely horrors or action or Westerns. The Magnificent Seven had a universal appeal to it because it touches on emotions that we have all felt at times. Feelings of loneliness, doubts concerning our choice of careers and cheering for the underdog.
Much of the success of the film has to be attributed to the excellent cast. The film also launched the careers of Steven McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn. They all went on to become stars. The film also had the benefit of a marvellous score courtesy of Elmer Bernstein (Cape Fear, My Left Foot). Recognized for its excellence, Bernstein’s score was nominated for an Oscar.
The Magnificent Seven is not the best Western ever made, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. Put it on your must watch list and hop to it.
-Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven
-The Linen Book: Lost Images From The Magnificent Seven
-Guns for Hire – The Making of Magnificent Seven