John Sturges” 1960 reworking of Akira Kurosawa”s epic “The Seven Samurai” is not simply another Oat Opera where you can spot a good guy for miles due to the gleam off of his shiny white hat. “The Magnificent Seven,” in retrospect, changed all the genre rules and became a bridge between the sweeping long shots of John Ford to the uncomfortable close-ups of Sergio Leone.
While the bad guy (Eli Wallach playing Mexican) is still the sort that may eat children, the good guys are gunslingers who fully realize they kill people for money. Sure, they kill mostly bad guys, but the more worldly of the group yearn for the normalcy of children and jobs that involve death less directly.
Yul Brenner and Steve (cool personified) McQueen lead the pack of seven, hired for pennies to defend an entire town against the evil Calvera (Wallach). While there is a great deal of humor and cornball antics as the gunslingers attempt to arm the town and prepare them for Calvera”s onslaught, the underlying theme is always the effect of violence. The townspeople simply fear it, while the men they hired both fear and make a living from it.
Gentleman slayer Lee (Robert Vaughn) is determined that age has slowed his reflexes, and his outward arrogance is permeated by an inward terror of being outgunned. Quiet knife-and-gun expert Britt (James Coburn) nails an amazing shot, killing a man from a quarter mile away, only to lament that he was aiming for the horse.
MGM gives the film the treatment it deserves, including a forty-minute documentary, interspersing footage from the set, contemporary interviews with the remaining cast and archival interviews with Brenner, McQueen, and Sturges.
A commentary track includes Coburn, Wallach and assistant director Walter Mirisch. The men mostly reminisce, and while Mirisch explains certain shots, the commentary will interest old film buffs more than serious film students. This also goes for the still gallery of the film”s stars, which includes head-shots as well as candid ones from the set.
The two trailers included on the disc are truly gems. While standard on newer films, it”s always a joy to see what was used to make people interested in a particular movie. Each trailer includes a goofy (no other word to describe it) song about the “Seven,” showcasing their talents (“the violent one,” “the dangerous one”) culminating in Brenner, “their leader.”
Just as today, the advertisements seem more interested in portraying the film as a pigeonholed genre pic than the groundbreaking (though here-to-fore unseen) epic that it really was. The sociological implications are wonderful, yet it is the film that is the true joy, both for its historical importance and its sheer entertainment value.