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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #217: The Magnificent Seven

If there is one thing better than a western about a hero riding into town to save the day and fight the bad guy, it’s seven heroes riding into town to fight a whole army of bad guys. It was a genius idea for Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and it worked equally well for American audiences in 1960 when John Sturges remade the movie as The Magnificent Seven with seven gunslingers instead of samurais. As a western it is somewhat dated by today’s standards, but it did achieve history by having some of the biggest stars of the time riding together into adventure.

This film was made before Sergio Leone changed the game for Westerns with his Man with No Name trilogy and also with Once Upon a Time in the West. I enjoyed those movies immensely years before watching The Magnificent Seven on Netflix last March so by comparison John Sturges’ movie seems a bit tame in terms of the violence and themes. However I certainly know who Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen are so seeing them together in the same movie is a must for any movie fan. Plus at the time I was in Alberta, so what better place to watch a classic Western than in the actual West?

Elli Wallach, who would go on to play another memorable Western villain, is the man responsible for getting the Magnificent Seven to band together in the first place. His character Calvera is an outlaw who makes regular pit stops in a Mexican town with the rest of his gang who take whatever from the poor villagers before heading in the country with the promise of always coming back for more. Faced with the difficult choice of either abandoning their town of fighting the bandidos themselves, the villagers decide to amass whatever money they have and head to America to buy weapons.

Of course a bunch of untrained villagers would have next to no chance against a gang of heavily armed bandits. What these guys need are gunslingers to do the shooting for themselves, which is exactly what Chris, or hero number one, suggests after hearing their story. For what little pay they have to offer, the villagers attract a diverse cast who each have their own reasons for jumping in the saddle.

Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) is convinced Chris is only taking the job because there must be gold in them’ Mexican hills; Vin (Steve McQueen) is broke and doesn’t want to work as a clerk; Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) is an Irish-Mexican who has also fallen on hard times; and Britt (James Coburn) is handy with a knife and will take the job just for the challenge. The two wildcards are the inexperienced Chico (Horst Bulchholz) who grew up in similar Mexican village, and gunman Lee (Robert Vaughn) who fears he doesn’t have it in him to pull the trigger anymore.

Despite the low pay, the odds being against them, and their own personal demons, the Magnificent Seven ride off into adventure to the tune of Elmer Bernstein’s iconic theme. The whole thing feels unapologetically heroic, with the seven men coming into town to help the poor helpless villagers and bonding with them. Even greedy Harry gets a big moment of redemption by riding into town guns blazing at the 11th hour when all seems to be lost.

But oh, so what? Not every Western needs to be about the effect of violence like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Sometimes it can simply be about the good guys coming to save the innocents from the bad guys and then riding off into the sunset before the credits start rolling. There is certainly nothing wrong with that.

Furthermore, even if you are not a fan of Westerns, the movie is a gift for film lovers as it provides them with a fun challenge every time they want to kill some time at a bar. Quick, who can name all of the Magnificent Seven in ten seconds or less?


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