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The Magnificent Seven

August 20, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Director: John Sturges
Actors: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz

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Synopsis: A Mexican town, frequently ravaged by bandits, sends three of its farmers across the border into the States to recruit a group of men to come back and rid them of those bandits.

Review: With Antoine Fuqua’s reboot fast approaching our cinema screens this Autumn, it felt opportune to revisit the original version of The Magnificent Seven – to unpick its true worth away from its enduring, pop-culturally iconic status.

The first thing that screams out to the viewer is Elmer Bernstein’s bombastic, inimitable score – playing over the opening images and credits of the film. Not only is Bernstein’s score one of the most distinctive in the history of cinema, but the broad, literal way that it acts as commentary to the action and emotions of the story stands as emblem for a film that has a straightforward, no-nonsense, old-school charm.

Talking about old-school charm, probably the most enjoyable aspect of the film is watching the now legendary names (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Charles Bronson) get introduced to the story in ‘Ocean’s Eleven’-style recruitment vignettes. Coburn and McQueen’s codas are the highlights – especially McQueen’s, where with a suitably cool, laconic resignation, he accepts the Mexicans taunting him about his only other option, “working in a grocery store”, just after he’s lost most of his money gambling in a saloon.

One can see why Hollywood might look to revisit this story though. Beyond the obvious (the clear commercial gain in rebooting a popular “brand name” from old Hollywood), there is plenty of room for improvement as a piece of social commentary, more can be done with the characterisations, and also the visceral, action elements could be ramped up a notch. That said, what this version has going for it are the glorious qualities of Panavision and Technicolor. It’s a sumptuous film to look at – freeze an image and you would have a gorgeous oil painting – and Fuqua and co will be hard-pushed to manufacture a more taut sequence than the near-wordless middle-stretch where three of the men daringly head off to intercept some of the bandits’ horses while the Mexicans’ raucous village fair is happening. (August 2016)

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