Time: 128 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Academy Award nominations for Best Original Score.
Since I'm not a fan of westerns, I don't usually go out of my way to see them, even if they're supposed to be really good. I can count the number I've actually sat through on one hand. However, I am a burgeoning fan of Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner so I figured at the very least there'd be some good eye candy to make the viewing worthwhile. I know, they are completely different physical types with opposite acting styles, yet they both are mesmerizing onscreen. This is apparently the American version of the legendary Kurasowa film THE SEVEN SAMURAI. Not having seen that picture I have no idea how true to the original this film is. What I can say, is that this is one fun, exciting and poignant motion picture. It's got great actors, a good script and some pretty cool action sequences. You can't ask for more. I'm stunned by how much I liked this film. It was intelligent, heartbreaking and entertaining. Apparently not all westerns are dull and boring, filled with mono-syllabic cowboys vying to see who has the fastest fingers in the West. Of course, this isn't an original piece, so I have the feeling Kurasowa's ideas have a greater impact than I'm aware of.
That being said, this tale of seven cowboys begins in a small Texas town where Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen) defy the prevailing local attitude by driving a hearse carrying a dead Indian up to the town's graveyard. Both men are pretty confident in their gunslinging abilities and believe a righteous man has the right to be buried regardless of his race. Chris and Vin had never met before, but they are men cut from the same cloth lonely gunslingers trying to uphold decency and honor in the world. Chris is found by three Mexican men desperate to find someone who will help them rid their small farming village of a murdering scoundrel named Calvera (Wallach) who steals their crops. The men of the village are willing to fight, but they have no weapons or training. Though they don't have much money, Chris agrees to try to round up a posse of quality men to take on Calvera. It isn't easy, all they can pay is $20 plus food, but they eventually find six others to join the fight: Vin, because he just can't say no to a good cause; Bernardo O'Reilly (Bronson), a man who's worked for more but would rather fight than chop wood for his daily bread; Lee (Vaughn), a man running from his personal demons; Harry Luck (Dexter), who believes there's a bigger payday at the end of this battle, despite what Chris tells him; Britt (Coburn), a quiet man with the fastest knife hand around; and Chico (Buchholz), an arrogant young Mexican desperate to prove how good he is with a gun.
Together, they ride for the village, hoping they can actually make a difference. They set up a warning system to alert them when Calvera is approaching the village and then begin to teach the locals how to protect themselves. It isn't easy, but they manage to set some traps and show a few of them how to fight. Since they have no idea when Calvera will be returning, they end up spending several weeks among the locals and really start to take their plight to heart. When three of Calvera's men are killed in the mountains by the village, everyone is put on alert. It won't be long now. They have no idea whether Calvera will attack the village, thinking his men were murdered/captures, or ride in without a care, arrogantly believing there's no way the villagers would be that stupid. When he does ride in he's surprised to meet Chris, he urges him to leave before blood is shed, to move on to another village and leave this one alone. Calvera is not afraid. He has 29 men and they are only seven. He even attempts to convince Chris and company to join their group. It would certainly be more profitable. His answer is a hail of bullets. The villagers are ecstatic to see Calvera hightail it out of there. However, Chris and the gang knows they aren't done yet.