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Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

In anticipation of the forthcoming re-make of the Magnificent Seven, the Tainted Archive rolls out reviews of the original movie, its sequels and the TV series.

"A pallid, pretentious and over-long reflection of the Japanese original.' New York Times

Given it's iconic status in the western moviescape, it may come as a surprise to hear that John Sturges' 1960 movie, The Magnificent Seven was largely a box office disappointment - during the year of its original release it placed well behind movies such as the Elvis Presley vehicle, G I Blues. But when the film was released in Europe it became a smash hit, being particularly popular in the UK and Germany.




Of course over the years the movie has gained its well deserved classic status, (in fact it remains the second most  played movie on American television) and watching the movie today it feel like what it is - a genuine screen classic which regularly features in top ten lists of the best western movies ever. Opening with Elmer Bernstein's rousing theme tune - a song that could be argued to be THE WESTERN THEME rather than just another western theme. It's a really exciting, rousing piece that once heard can never be forgotten. So iconic did it become that it was used in television adverts for Malboro Cigarettes and also for comedic effect in the James Bond movie, Moonraker.

The film starts proper with Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his bandit army riding into a small Mexican village and pushing the residents about. Eventually the residents decide to fight back but rather than buying guns and fighting themselves they hire Chris (Yul Brynner) to protect them. Soon six other gunmen join Brynner's team and we have the magnificent seven.

The film doesn't really put a foot wrong in the way it is structured - the first part of the film deals with the seven coming together. Next they arrive at the Mexican village and there are some great character moments here, but ironically it is Hortz Buckholz (the actor most forgotten by participants in pub quizzes when asked to name the seven actors) who shines the brightest. He has some great moments, not less his discovery of the women the villagers have hidden from the American gunmen. Steve McQueen also stands out as does James Coburn - between them these two give us the two coolest most laid back characters in the entire movie. The middle section of the film sees the seven training up the villagers and they initially drive off Calvera (Wallach) and his men but the film builds up the tension for the return of Calvera and the final climatic shoot-out.

The real star of the movie though is the lean script - the dialogue is particularly good with few words wasted and virtually every line carries the story forward in some way. Though of course the action scenes, particularly the gunfights are excellently blocked and acted out.

'The old man was right, only the farmers won. We lost.' Chris' (Brynner's) final line as he and McQueen
 ride off into the sunset.

A western then that truly is magnificent.

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