The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

written by William Roberts

based on the film Seven Samurai, written by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobi Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni

directed by John Sturges

The Magnificent Seven was probably the first Western I ever watched. I must’ve been ten or eleven, and I remember seeing it on VHS – pan and scan, of course – in my parents’ bedroom. It still holds up nicely, especially watching it properly in widescreen. Sure, the original film on which it’s based, Seven Samurai (1954), will always be the superior movie. But in adapting a Japanese sword-fighting epic into an American Wild West flick, screenwriter William Roberts and director John Sturges crafted an equally exciting adventure.

As a child, I remember being impressed by all these badasses hired to protect a Mexican village from bandits. Among them were James Coburn’s cool knife expert Britt, Charles Bronson’s tough-but-compassionate Bernardo, and the self-assured gunslinger duo of Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen). Brynner and McQueen reportedly didn’t get along behind the scenes, but you wouldn’t know it from their chemistry onscreen – their first moment together, as they defy racist townsfolk to deliver the body of a Native American man to a gravesite, is all kinds of awesome (plus one of my earliest realizations that questioning the status quo was a moral imperative).

Seeing The Magnificent Seven so many years later, what struck me the most was its commentary on masculinity: When young hothead Chico (Horst Buchholz) mentions that guns are the way for men to earn money and respect, Vin answers, “Yeah, sure… After a while, you can call bartenders and faro dealers by their first name. Maybe two hundred of ’em. Rented rooms you live in… five hundred. Meals you eat in hash houses… a thousand. Home… none. Wife… none. Kids… none. Prospects… zero. Suppose I left anything out?” The Magnificent Seven may be a popcorn shoot-’em-up, but there are traces of a Revisionist Western here, if less violent and thought-provoking than later classics of the genre like The Wild Bunch (1969). In the end, Chris and Vin ride into the sunset, as so many have done before… but with the solemn certainty that their way of life is but a loser’s game.

Rating: ***

Carlos I Cuevas