The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Director: John Sturges
Cast: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson
Plot: An oppressed Mexican peasant village assembles seven gunfighters to help defend their homes.
Awards: Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Score.
Rating: PG for some violence and language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Two of John Sturges’ most famous films came in the 1960s. They were The Great Escape (1963) and The Magnificent Seven. Both starred Steve McQueen, one of the most popular stars of the rolling sixties. An icon of popular culture, McQueen symbolized the hip and cool male who broke no sweat under intense pressure.
In The Magnificent Seven, he plays Vin, a gunfighter who possesses a deadly shot, starring alongside Yul Brynner, who plays Chris, a leader of sorts who gathers five more gunfighters to help to protect some poor farmers in a small Mexican village from marauding bandits.
Sturges’ film is a simple story of good versus evil, of gunslingers versus bandits. If it seems familiar, it is because it has been made before. Six years prior to the release of this film to be specific. The Magnificent Seven owes a huge debt to Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), a masterpiece of action spectacle and drama, of which Sturges’ film is very heavily based on.
Essentially an American remake of Kurosawa’s film, The Magnificent Seven is known to be a classic in the Western genre, but in my opinion, it is an uninspired effort that falls flat on many occasions.
The main problem with Sturges’ film is that the characters are not very well developed. With the exception of the Charles Bronson character, who has some tender moments with a trio of kids, nearly everyone else seem like they are part of a staged set-up. There is a lack of spontaneity in the acting, and the lines of dialogue merely serve to push the narrative forward instead of fleshing out the characters.
Mind you, there are seven roles (eight, if you count the main villain) here. Kurosawa understood this and spent more than an hour to develop his characters prior to the action. Speaking of action, when it comes to crunch time, The Magnificent Seven delivers the kind of stuff that audiences would expect, but not necessarily admire.
Shootouts are quite standard for the genre, but it is Sturges’ execution that leaves audiences expecting more because it is not done well enough. Perhaps the best part of the film is Elmer Bernstein’s music, which is readily identifiable and easy to hum along to. For a Western of considerable reputation, I feel that The Magnificent Seven feels quite outdated. It is more forgettable than not. Even McQueen could not save the film from being average in my eyes.
GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)