Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Magnificent Seven

Original Poster for The Magnificent 7

steve harris goes all gun slingy and heads off to the Wild, Wild, West, yes now I have that song in my head as well...

When I was a kid I truly bought into everything about this movie. I could count to seven and I knew there were indeed seven gunslingers roped in by the occupants of a Mexican town to protect them from nasty shitbag Eli Wallach. All seven seemed magnificent to me. Also it had a really catchy repeating musical motif that makes me want to practise drawing my gun from my holster to this day. When I was a kid this was all I needed to love a film.

I just watched it again because of the remake that is scheduled (the ‘c’ is silent, Americans, sorry, it just is). What I had not realised is that since the last time I saw this movie and now I have watched Kirusawa’s Seven Samurai, the epic Japanese tale on which The Magnificent Seven was based. Once you’ve seen Kirusawa’s version all imitations are pale and stupid. And either not long enough or too long in places. Like the bit where Yul Brynner is rounding up the Seven which takes almost an hour ffs.

Gun Shooting

If you like this film and haven’t seen Seven Samurai you won’t know why Kirusawa kills this first Hollywood remake six years before it is even made. Watch Seven Samurai. Then come back to me with an opinion. Otherwise take it from me that Kirusawa made a much better movie.However, there are still things to enjoy about The Magnificent Seven. The cast shines despite some of the romanticism and Mexicans as ‘other’ implicit in the narrative. Yul Brynner is the best cowboy ever. Apart from maybe Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper or Robert Mitchum. What, no John Wayne? Fuck off, pilgrim.

Brynner as an archetypal American gunslinger is as hilarious as the mythology that gunslingers in the old West could be moralistic, decent people. Not only is his character meant to be Cajun anyway, in which case he’d be New Orleans French or similar, but Brynner himself was Russian born and only came to the States at the age of 19 or 20 with not much English in his vocabulary.Yet he’s so perfect in the saddle, with a gun in his hand, saying pithy and mumbled dialogue, smoking cigars and walking with his thighs slightly apart that it's no wonder he was equally perfect to play the robot gunslinger in Westworld a few years later.
Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen! I always forget McQueen is in this movie even though he is the second man recruited by Brynner. God I love Steve McQueen. If I were a man-fancier I’d assume I want to have sex with him, the ruggedly good looking bastard. But I don’t. I want to shag Paul Newman but he’s not in this movie so forget I said that. JUST FORGET IT, OKAY? McQueen is as sublimely laconic as Brynner. In fact being laconic is the defacto setting for most of these guys. James Coburn, the knife guy, barely says a word yet dominates the screen in almost every shot he’s in. Charles Bronson rarely bettered his appearance here – with the exception of his career stand-out role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West (coincidentally starring Henry Fonda in a rare outing as a villain, and what a villain with those piercing eyes and lockjaw features).

Horst Buchholz is, like Brynner, a wondrous anomaly. A German actor (considered the German James Dean as evidenced by the more method style of some of his scenes) playing a Mexican or dual heritage character, Chico. Chico gets longer and more impactive speeches than the others in the Seven and thus carries the load in terms of exposition. And carries it well, such as the plot is. Unlike James Dean, Buchholz didn’t stack his car and kill himself before having a chance to get older and make even more films. He drove at perfectly controllable speeds although quite possibly also in a Porsche, already one of Germany’s finest car manufacturers. Brad Dexter is the least well known of the Seven in terms of international fame. His character seems ill-considered by the writers, too. Seven is in the title so they clearly threw in a seventh guy without knowing quite what they wanted him to be. And it shows, sorry Brad.

The Magnificent 7

Last of the Seven to consider (not the last recruited) is Robert Vaughn. Now I like Vaughn a lot. Man From U.N.C.L.E, yes please. Hustle, yes please. The Magnificent Seven, not so much. His character is fleshed out well-enough in terms of distinction from the others – a gunman worried he’s losing his nerve and speed – but it’s far from Vaughn’s finest hour in terms of the acting. Sorry Bob, I tells it like it is.I’ve already mentioned Wallach as the bad guy. He’s Wallach as the bad guy: always charismatic but here less a character than a cypher. He’s much better and far funnier in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

So, Mexicans hire seven gunslingers. Gunslingers teach Mexicans to shoot guns to stop Wallach and his men raiding their village all the time. Mexicans would rather be farmers and wear all white – like Daz white, not big-box powder white – clothing which never gets dirty no matter how much farming they do or how many times they get shot. Mexican kids speak perfect English. Mexican women are mostly excised from the plot apart from a feisty, hot little thing who wants to do it and do it and do it with Chico but can’t because it’s 1960 and there’s hardly any blood shown, let alone fucking. And the bad guys lose. And the good guys win. Except four of them are dead so they don’t win that well. So the farmers win. Yeah, go farmers. Not farmer Giles. Stay away cockney rhyming slang for arse-ouchness. Go Mexican farmer guys.

Don’t watch the sequel. Or the remake in 2017. Watch Kirusawa. Seriously. Watch it or I’ll never talk to you again.

steven harris is adverse to putting his name in capitals because names aren't that important. Also, lower case is sexy. steven writes all sorts of stuff including fiction, poetry, songs, opinion pieces and shopping lists. He does not write on lavatory doors any more. his blog has writing in it and can be located at He lives in Devon with an imaginary cat called Kafka.

Follow him on Twitter at @theplanetharris

Images from IMDB

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