I’ve said many times that they just don’t make movies like they did in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. I mean I haven’t come across too many (from the films I have seen) that have not delivered in some fantastical way to say, “That was a great film.” And while this film was a great film and I did enjoy it, something missed for me in its final production.
Some may say this is one of the greatest films of all time. They may even say it’s one of the best westerns of all time. Either way, I can’t really argue. What missed for me were parts of the first act and small portions of the middle seemed to drag a little, which then threw the pacing off for me. Not enough to take me out of the film entirely, but just enough skew my impression of the film. But I figured with the recent remake released, I would take a look at this one (which is an Americanized version of the Japanese film, Seven Samurai).
The story is set in a small farming village, just south of the border. A bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach) rides in with his army of bandits and steals most everything he can get his hands on. The villagers decide they should fight back. A few head north to buy guns so they can fight back. Instead, they meet Chris (Yul Brynner), a gunfighter who recommends they hire men to help with their problem rather than buy guns. Chris then agrees to help, recruiting six other gunfighters, each with different backgrounds. He ultimately rounds up the six others and together they ride back to the village. The odds seemed stacked against them, but with faith and determination on their side, well…odds be damned.
The acting lineup was superb and each actor brought his own to the characters and commanded the use of dialogue from writer William Roberts. Most of these actors were relatively unknown at the time, with the exception of a few. But they played their roles well and commanded the screen with their presence. Brynner leads the cast with Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, Brad Dexter, and Horst Buchholz rounding out the Magnificent Seven. Taking his turn as the antagonist is Wallach. These character portrayals are genuine and bring individuality, which adds to the unique chemistry between them. They don’t really have any other commitments. They go along from job to job just living their lives, which propels them to do the best job they know how.
Director John Sturges blends together the action, dialogue, and story into a thrilling, nearly linear, adventure (except for those aforementioned parts of the film). This straight forward approach to the film brings the characters to the forefront that much more with each character’s varied and interesting backgrounds. The story, character interactions, and the gun fights are what kept me wanting to see the film to the end. The cinematography and music, helmed by Charles Lang and Elmer Bernstein respectively, added much to the film while underscoring key elements such as the gun fights or the lower, deeper music played when the bad guys entered the frame. And the fact the film was Oscar-nominated for Best Musical Score, proves the great effect it had on the film and audiences.
The Magnificent Seven runs 128 minutes (which might account for some of the slow pacing moments), but it gets into the story and characters quickly and gives the audience what it needs to go along for the ride. It might be just shy of magnificent, but it holds its own and has become an instant classic.