A film I had recently stumbled upon is ‘The Magnificent Seven(1960)’ which is directed by John Sturges(‘Bad Day at Black Rock’, ‘The Great Escape’) and stars Yul Brenner, Horst Buchholz, Steve Mcqueen, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Charles Bronson & Brad Dexter as ‘The Magnificent Seven’. The film is about a group of ‘hard-riding, mercenary Western gunmen’ who put themselves under the pressure of saving a Mexican sierra village from a group of bandito’s, the film is a reimagining of a film called ‘The Seven Samurai’ which follows a similar story, guns instead of samurai swords.
A little disclaimer, I have seen the remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ which came out in 2016 and it was an enjoyable popcorn flick which had some strong action scenes and it mainly relied on that, this wasn’t a negative with the remake since it makes it clear that its focus is more on the action in the trailers and the full film which is definitely a contrast compared to the 1960 original when film production was not as technical. The remake of this film was a breath of fresh air at the time when I went to see it in cinema because we rarely ever get films in the Old American West of the 19th century especially one where it had an age rating of a 12 because if we ever did in the UK, most of them were given an age rating of either a 15 or an 18. This film is as western as you can get with a film from the 1960’s (When the Genre was more popular) with its stretched out gun fights, scenes stuck in saloons alongside gambling men with the full ‘cowboy’ attire and wide shots of the beautiful Mexican landscape (before Sergio Leone brought about Spaghetti Westerns). The films landscape is definitely used to John Sturges advantage of trying to get the audience to understand that ‘The Magnificent Seven’ are in a real world, one that is not stuck in a backlot. I have seen some Western films but not too many, the only ones I can remember seeing are ‘The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (1966)’ by Sergio Leone (For A Few Dollars More, Once Upon a Time in the West & Duck, you Sucker!), ‘The Magnificent Seven (2016) by Antoine Fuqua (The Equaliser, Training Day & Southpaw) and ‘Django Unchained (2012)’ by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight & Inglourious Basterds) which gives massive respect to original western films, specifically Spaghetti Westerns whilst also involving elements from Blacksploitation films which made an interesting mix for a film. The reason I wanted to watch the original ‘The Magnificent Seven’ was because I don’t watch western films often and I wanted to see how much the remake differs from original film.
John Sturges has a strong sense of direction in this film and this only really seemed to stand out to me in the action scenes from what I remember. For example, there is a wide shot when Yul Brenner’s character runs to the right of a well for cover as he is firing at the m
enacing bandits with his rifle, the camera pans to the right following him which ends up with the camera facing his back as he aims at more bandits attacking the village. This scene is so good since the camera movements makes the scene feel more chaotic and surprising which is what you want for your action scenes. There are so many scenes similar to this especially in the action scenes which is really when the film starts to shine. Sadly, there is not as much action as I expected, this is likely because the remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ was fuelled on action scenes but that is definitely not a bad thing, the original gets to show us more dialogue and development with the situation and characters. However, some characters still don’t get as much time on screen for development which is shame since some characters are completely thrown to the side and are never really brought up again for much or just simply don’t do much at all in the film. For example, the character, Lee (Robert Vaughn) is shown to have some conflicting behaviours due to his past which restricts him from taking fight with the others against the bandits, as interesting as his character sounds he is never used as much as you would want him to be. The standout in this film is definitely Chico (Horst Bucholz) who is used as the comic relief in certain parts of the film through his anger and arrogance, the character is always keeping your interest. Some of the main character deaths seem very overdramatic and lazy and this is because we never see who actually shoots them and at some point it can feel quite ridiculous, some of the deaths in the film feel quite formulaic with main characters repeatedly dying one after another which is a shame because it takes you out of the film since you feel like you know what is going to happen.
The films score by Elmer Bernstein who has worked on the soundtrack for films like ‘Ghostbusters(1984)’,’Airplane!(1980)’ & ‘The Great Escape(1963)’ (which is also by John Sturges) has a truly grand and memorable score which knows when it is needed. For example, the soundtrack has a good understanding on dynamics like when the emotional scenes are happening or when John Sturges wants you to grasp the situation the gunmen are in, Elmer Bernstein quietens the sound of the soundtrack down or when there is immense trouble for the gunmen and the bandits are getting what they want, Bernstein makes the soundtrack louder, there are also small cues which indicate when the trouble is about to happen to raise the suspense the audience would have. At some points the film is not followed by the soundtrack but this is mainly used for scenes where there is a sense of awkwardness or so the audience can rest their ears. The sound effect of gunfire is used quite a lot to make the atmosphere of being in a gunfight but this isn’t really too impressive as a majority of western films include this anyway.
The runtime for this film is two hours and five minutes and at times the film does feel like it overstays its welcome as some scenes just feel like they don’t need to be there and it’s a bit frustrating when you have a character (Lee) who barely has any scenes.
However, I really enjoyed watching this film as it felt very different from most films I’ve watched in recent years, I found it quite interesting being able to see how a film from the 1960’s compares to a film from 2016 like with what is more present in films nowadays and just simply sitting back and watching a more peaceful film (well except when the action starts) that isn’t going crazy with its special effects and action. Although, I managed to find some of the character arcs and runtime of the film frustrating I would still give this a recommendation and that’s why I am giving it a 3/5, the film would have been better at the time if it had made Lee’s character have a lot more screentime and had put more effort into the death scenes in the film and potentially tried to take out any scenes that just did not contribute to the main plot. This film is still an interesting watch and could potentially surprise you with how much film has developed over the years.
Thanks For Reading, Cody.