Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Give The Magnificent Seven marks for being different.

Director John Sturges (The Great Escape) opens his film in an unusual way. An undertaker refuses to bury an Indian because the townfolk don't want him resting alongside the dead who have white skin.

Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) agree to bring the hearse to the graveyard, calmly ducking bullets and verbal barbs hurled their way. They have to face five armed men once they get to the cemetery too.

The opening minutes establish the film's theme of standing up for the little guy who is wronged, but can't fight back.

A delegation from a Mexican village appeals to Chris for help. Their community is pillaged on a regular basis by a bandido and his gang. They want him to round up, quite literally, some hired guns and free their community from tyranny.

Chris, being a gun for hire, knows where to find talent such as Britt (James Coburn), Bernardo (Charles Bronson) and Lee (Robert Vaughn). Part of his posse includes Horst Buchholz, a German actor who doesn't make much of an impression among such a stellar assembly of stars. That's a small quibble about a western that definitely stands out for its genre.

Viewers would expect these gunslingers to be tough, macho men. Instead, they definitely show signs of humanity. Lee looks like he's struggling to hold it together mentally. He's wondering if he's lost his touch with his gun and will soon be struck down by a quicker adversary. Bronson's Bernardo chews out youngsters who suggest their fathers are weak because they don't stand up for their community. This comes from a guy who has made plenty of money fighting other people's wars.

Conductor Elmer Bernstein was rightly nominated for an Oscar for best score. His music is a powerful sidekick to the action on the screen.

The Magnificent Seven helped establish McQueen, Bronson and Coburn as major screen talents. They'd be reunited for another film by Sturges, The Great Escape, in 1963.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: See if you can spot Victor French (Little House on the Prairie) in a small role in his first feature film.

Horst Buchholz also appeared in Life is Beautiful.

James Coburn was the owner of El Sleezo Cafe in The Muppet Movie.

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