That all time classic Western ‘The Magnificent Seven’ gallops, moseys and even sachets on to UK Region free Blu-ray - guns a blazin’, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’. It’s truly great to see a movie that was once the staple diet of many a Bank Holiday Monday being given the High Def treatment so that a whole new audience gets the chance to see it in all its Panavision glory. Very often the remark that would escape the lips of TV viewers upon reading the schedules in the newspaper was “What, again?”
This same remark was also reserved for ‘The Great Escape’, ‘633 Squadron’ and ‘The Sound of Music’. The funny thing was that on the Bank Holiday Monday in question, millions of people would still settle down to watch the movie even though they’d seen it many times before. This was because it had qualities that elude many other films. It was a downright good movie, directed by someone who knew how to tell a story, with a cast who not only knew how to act but also possessed that rare commodity – ‘star quality’.
I think we all know by now that ‘The Magnificent Seven’ was based upon the Kurosawa classic ‘Seven Samurai’. It was only a matter of time before someone in Hollywood transposed the Samurai warriors for Western gunslingers and 1960 was the year that it hit the big screen. It couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be called a ‘chick flick’ and this may be the reason I have difficulty in persuading my other half to park her carcass long enough to watch it – or indeed any Western. So watching it may be a lonely vigil, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.
With the opening shots of the blood red titles superimposed over the Mexican landscape accompanied by the rousing music of Elmer Bernstein, you’re already strapping on your holster and six gun because you know in your heart of hearts that you are the uncredited eighth member of the posse. The legendary names Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach and Steve McQueen are above the title. Following on we have James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn (TV’s own ‘Man from Uncle’). But what’s this? ‘And introducing Horst Buchholz’ – we forget that this is the picture that launched the international career of the, then, young actor and branded his name along with the other actors into the leather bound pages of Western movie history. Oh, to have been in an audience seeing it for the first time on a big screen upon its release. But wait, now we can see it on a big screen as Blu-ray gives us a version that’s good enough to project and enjoy in our own home cinemas.
What about the story I hear you cry! Oh come on! You had to have been exploring the upper reaches of the Amazon for the last fifty years not to know that. Okay, then just for the kiddywinks. A Mexican farming village is preyed upon each year after harvest by a terrible Bandito, Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang of forty thugs, who take most of their crops only leaving them with just enough to live on in poverty. The villagers eventually decide that enough is enough and club together to buy guns to see off the marauding gang. They witness a brave deed by Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) who ride shotgun on a hearse to ensure that an old Indian gets a decent burial despite the prejudice of townsfolk. Afterwards they approach Chris for help in buying guns but he persuades them to hire gunmen instead. He goes through the process of putting together his team - each character with their own story – before setting out for the village. The seven gunslingers (okay, six gunslingers and a knife thrower) give Calvera’s men a nasty shock on their first encounter, but things don’t go to plan thereafter. Will the seven win? How many will be alive at the end of the picture? For answers to these and other questions you’ll have to watch the movie.
For me, the greatest selling point of this film just has to be the cast of great Hollywood names all together in one movie. Each one tries to steal the scene from the rest by using little acting tricks to draw attention to themselves. Childish but fun.
John Sturges is a name synonymous with big Hollywood movies and when you read his name as director in the titles you know that you’re in for some strong action material and real manly stuff. He never disappoints and he turned in just as good a job here as he did on ‘The Great Escape’ which starred many of the same actors.
There are several scenes in ‘The Magnificent Seven’ that lodge in the memory. For me, the best has to be the sequence where Chris & Vin take the hearse up to Boot Hill, risking being used as target practice by every redneck in town. It shows two men with guts who work together to ensure that the right and decent thing is done – forming an instant bond and shared respect, a camaraderie that is so often missing in the modern day ‘civilised’ world.
The scene where they are run out of town by Calvera, given back their guns and told to go is another where they prove their courage. They could quite easily ride off into the sunset, but they go back because they hadn’t completed the job they set out to do – and also because they’re men.
In the end this is a guy’s picture and a classic to boot. It celebrates manhood and the ‘old code’ that includes doing what’s right and not being pushed around. It’s a very satisfying watch that includes enough escapism to ensure that we are transported back to our childhood where we had our very own gunfights with our cap guns – emulating the quick draws and sharp shooting we had all seen at the movies. If I ever spot myself in a full length mirror and fail to get the urge to reach for my six-gun in an attempt to outdraw myself, then I will know that the child within me is dead and it’s time to give up. Until then the spirit of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ lives on!
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