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The Magnificent Seven (1960)

by on 2011/06/24

“Right now, that’s a lot.”

* * * *

There are movies I love so much I probably shouldn’t “critique” them. The Magnificent Seven is just such an unfair example. In fact, I could comfortably review it in only seven magnificent words:

  • Bernstein
  • Bronson
  • Coburn
  • McQueen
  • Mirisch
  • Sturges
  • UA

Sound familiar? To any fan of The Great Escape . . . like music to our ears.

Fortunately, there’s even more. Yul Brynner (Westworld), Brad Dexter (The Asphalt Jungle), Robert Vaughn (Bullitt), and Eli Wallach (The Good the Bad and the Ugly) are some of the biggest names here. (Fortunately, relative unknown Horst Buchholz is at least as impressive.)

And the plot may be as familiar as the players. Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, it concerns a group of gunmen, hired to “shoo flies away from a village” in Mexico. Each of them has their own particular skill or mannerism, and a valid reason for taking on the job, despite its extraordinary danger and low pay.

The “flies” in question are bandits led by Eli Wallach’s Calvera, an antagonist who impressed me by avoiding easy caricature. He’s neither a bumbling idiot nor superficially cruel. Clearly of the opinion he follows an honourable code, he’s not exactly sympathetic, but he is formidable.

While the story never gets especially heavy, it’s textured and seasoned well. The predominant action and frequent humour is infused with suggestions of depth. Brynner brings an occasional angst in his introspective scenes. Other characters balance their own bluster with imperfection, responsible living with freedom, and aspirations with fear.

Its touches avoid any drag on the movie’s mood, pace, or duration. If its suggestions are slight then they’re also significant: a search not for a battle-worn warrior but the “one who gave him [the scars]”, Chico beckoning his new comrades over instead of going to them, and Calvera’s rationale for being responsible to his men. Though none of these details are necessary, they transform something good into something better.

Its broad strokes and fine lines obviously worked. Its influence is still clearly felt, not because it invented its tropes, but because it popularized them, demonstrating their flexibility, strength, and ultimate value. Perhaps most importantly, The Magnificent Seven proves more than just a fast, fun, funny, involving, and interesting entertainment . . . well, come to think of it, given all that, what else really matters?

* * * *

Rated PG

128 minutes

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