|THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)|
Jorge Martinez de Hoyos
|"Nobody throws me my own guns and says run. Nobody."|
|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.
By sneaking into Calvera's camp, Chico learns that they are still greatly outnumbered and that Calvera isn't going anywhere. The village is his lifeline. His men will starve without the food they steal from the village. This knowledge divides the sentiments of the villagers. Some wish to continue the fight, to make sure they gain their freedom once and for all. The others want the gunslingers to leave, it's better to give Calvera what he wants and be alive. The men are torn, tired of the loneliness of the cowboy ways, several of them believe they could actually settle in a town like this, try to have a normal life. Of course, there's still the matter of Calvera...who is smarter than he appears. In an unexpected turnabout the seven find themselves on the defensive with the choice of whether to abandon the village or take a final stand and potentially lose their lives. It's not a hard decision. The final battle sequence is a stunning swirl of action with the men using their prodigious skills to make a dent on Calvera's gang. Since the odds are against them it's clear that not everyone will survive, but you're still shocked when they go down. It's a fight to the finish with guns blazing.
With great production design, brilliant director, subtle acting and an amazingly haunting and exciting score, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a film that will entrance you from beginning to end. There's not as much action as you would think, but you won't mind because the sequences in between are filled with wonderful character moments. Every actor is given his moment to shine. Instead of glorifying the cowboy world, the film gives a very unusual perspective that of lonely men who wish they had chosen a different path. Brynner and McQueen have the largest parts and compliment each other beautifully. Brynner is controlled and enigmatic, while McQueen is down-to-earth and soulful. They are the heart of the picture. Eli Wallach is an unusual choice for a Mexican bandit, but he gives the role just the right amount of danger, arrogance and humor. Horst Buchholz has the stand out role of the young Mexican gunslinger dying to make this his way of life. He's quite endearing and entrancing as a man torn between settling down and setting out. Bronson, Dexter, Vaughn and Coburn make the most of their limited screen time, creating individual characters with very few scenes or lines.
What's great about this film is the subtle humor and intense character development. This guys are not your normal men for hire and though they may not say much, their actions speak quite loudly. This is a western that questions the heroism and excitement of a life venerated by American cinema for decades. It's a wonderful piece of filmmaking I look forward to watching again and again. If you've never seen this flick, you're really missing something.