THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN 1960
We did this film when we did our “Lucky Seven” show. We started with Kurasawa’s 1954 masterpiece, ‘Seven Samurai’, and followed the theme through ‘A Bugs Life’, ‘The Three Amigos’ and Bollywood’s ‘Sholay’. Interestingly we went to see ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ over the Easter break and found this film also shares much in common with the movies covered on this show. Elmer Bernstein wrote the iconic theme, as well as the music for ‘The Three Amigos’.
I’d forgotten what a man-fest ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is! Girls, if you thought this was a ‘lads’ movie’; think again. Seven drool worthy specimens each more gorgeous than the last. I challenge you to remember all seven of them (without ‘Googling’). The show is stolen by Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen. In their scenes together the tension as they compete for screen time is tangible. Brynner lights a cigar. McQueen lifts his hat. Wonderful stuff.
The ‘Seven Samurai’ is credited in the opening sequence. In Kurasawa’s film the leader of the bandits isn’t really explored as a character, in fact his threat to steal from the village is overheard by accident, driving the villagers to protect themselves. In ‘The Magnificent Seven’ the role of the bandit leader, Caivera, played by Eli Wallach, is expanded; he’s more psychopathic and takes pleasure in taunting the villagers. He’s given a back story, having been involved in a bank robbery which has led to his being an outlaw. He says to the Seven “Your government came after me with a whole army” which, curiously, places the seven hired gunslingers in the position of being the establishment. Whilst Kurasawa’s story is absolutely grounded in social position and pedigree ‘The Magnificent Seven’ is politically more ambiguous. The villagers are farmers, described as being “like the land itself”. They are content, happy and we see a community made up of men, women and children working with nature. The villagers hide ‘their’ women from the gunslingers, women are their treasure, their future, and the gunslingers cannot be trusted with them. The Seven themselves are guns for hire, drifters, outsiders, described as “like the wind” and there is no sign of friendship or loyalty between those remaining at the end of the film, once they have done the job they are paid to do. Coburn’s character displays his death-wish throughout the film (his erect knife in his final shot) and when Caivera asked Chris “Why?” Chris doesn’t answer. When we first meet Chris he is the uncivilized, outsider involved in a dispute over the burial of a Native American who cannot be buried in a white mans' graveyard "Since the town got civilized". The villagers hire men because men are cheaper then guns.
There is no doubt the film is exploring the idea of what it is to be a “man” but when and where. Are all Westerns ultimately American narratives?