The Magnificent Seven was released in 1960 and is a western genre adaptation of the 1954 film, Seven Samurai. The movie tells of a gang of bandits that steals the majority of crops from a poor farming village. Because of the theft, the villagers are left with very little sustenance for themselves. Not surprisingly, the townsfolk become agitated and tired of this vicious cycle and decide to urgently seek help in an effort to defend the village when the bandits return for their spoils.
The movie's story is fun and entertaining to watch. The villagers send three men to look for assistance in fighting the bandits. Luckily, they meet the good-natured Chris who is willing to help their cause. Chris recruits friends, acquaintances, and newcomers – mostly former or current drifters, gunslingers, and bounty hunters – to form a crew of seven. They are led to the village where they help its inhabitants prepare for the bandits’ impending arrival.
Fortunately, The Magnificent Seven’s story is not a mindless western. Rather it contains several nuanced elements. The narrative is not as cookie-cutter as one would think when reading the plot synopsis or tagline. This helps the narrative maintain a level of unpredictability, a component you will be sure to enjoy. Moreover, the townsfolk and the seven men themselves all have distinctive developments that reflect each characters’ traits, idiosyncrasies, histories, and decision to defend the village.
The Magnificent Seven does a great job humanizing the seven men. Yes, they are gunslingers and killers, but the narrative is presented in such a way that their exteriors are often peeled back giving a glimpse into their fears and anxiety. Including this element was very strategic as it helps the film assume its own unique identity and provides necessary grounding for the characters.
In general, the pacing is unpredictable, but in a good way. As briefly mentioned above, you might think you know where the story is heading, but then it takes an unforeseen turn; this keeps the narrative progression feeling at once engaging and exciting. Naturally, this dynamic pace ties into the movie’s distinctive tone, which helps create a stage conducive for great storytelling and character development.
The actors and actresses in The Magnificent Seven provide strong performances overall. Yul Brynner’s Chris Adams and Steve McQueen’s Vin Tanner are the two de facto leaders in the crew of seven. Brynner especially does a great job in his portrayal of a benevolent, trustworthy character – qualities not often seen in a western gunslinger.
Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, and Horst Buchholz all provide excellent work in their respective roles as the other members in the crew. Thankfully each member is provided with enough screen time that the actors are able to communicate their individual personalities. By doing so, the characters feel three-dimensional and as though they have proper depth. This is beneficial not only to the audience, but to the actors themselves as they are able to perfect their craft.
Eli Wallach’s performance as Calvera, the bandit leader, is quite convincing. Calvera is a fairly unconventional villain. He is not necessarily interested in simply killing, but is concerned first and foremost with the well-being of his gang. Wallach does a great job in portraying Calvera as a multilayered antagonist.
Pepe Hern, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos, Natividad Vacío, Rico Alaniz, Vladimir Sokoloff, and Rosenda Monteros deliver sound performances in their roles as the townspeople. They do a great job at conveying the helplessness of the villagers and making their appeal for help. They, like the members of the crew of seven, also experience emotional turmoil and struggle with their decision to hire the gunslingers to aid in fighting Calvera and his men.
The Magnificent Seven’s cinematography is great. From the wide landscape establishing shots, to the action sequences, the camera work reflects the character of the environment. The action shots are also pretty well done and help you feel like you are in the heat of the battle. Some of the deaths are exceedingly dramatic, though that is more a sign of the times in which the film was produced.
Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is impressive and beautiful. The film’s main theme is quite well-known and will likely remain in your head for some time after your viewing. It is catchy and captures the tone and mood of a grand western-style overture. Moreover, other songs include a nice mix of Southwestern music and guitar elements that contribute in keeping the music accurate to the locale as well as entertaining. Bernstein was awarded the film’s only Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and rightfully so.
John Sturges’ direction of The Magnificent Seven is impressive. He does an excellent job with his adaptation of Seven Samurai. This speaks to both Sturges’ ability to direct and give an adaptation his own flare. It also demonstrates that the film had strong writing from the onset. In short, Sturges does a great job with his management and communication of a heroic, iconic, and complex western movie.
In summary, The Magnificent Seven is an entertaining film with a great underlying message. The terrific character arcs provide insight into the characters’ perspectives and makes you feel like you are there and one of them. If you enjoy rich stories set in the western motif, then you will not want to miss this western classic.
Distributor: United Artists
Production: The Mirisch Company; Alpha Productions
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Walter Mirisch; Lou Morheim; John Sturges
Screenwriter: William Roberts; Akira Kurosawa; Walter Bernstein; Shinobu Hashimoto; Walter Newman; Hideo Oguni
Director of Photography: Charles Lang, Jr.
Editor: Ferris Webster
Art Director: Edward Fitzgerald
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Orchestrator: Jack Hayes; Leo Shuken
Costume Designer: Bert Henrikson
Budget: ca. $2,000,000
Release Date: October 23, 1960 (USA)
Cinematographic Process: Panavision
Copyright Holder: The Mirisch Company; Alpha Productions
Cast: Yul Brynner; Steve McQueen; Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn; Brad Dexter; James Coburn; Horst Buchholz; Eli Wallach; Pepe Hern; Jorge Martínez de Hoyos; Natividad Vacío; Rico Alaniz; Vladimir Sokoloff; Rosenda Monteros
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Running Time: 2 hours and 8 minutes (128 mins.)