movie review: the magnificent seven

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN tells the tale of a tiny village kept at the brink of poverty by Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his bandits. Unable to defend themselves, the villagers enlist Chris Adam (Yul Brynner) and six other gunmen to defend them. The gunmen all choose to help for different reasons, and much of the film is dedicated to characterizing the gunmen as they help the town get ready to fight back against Calvera’s gang.

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Elmer Berenstein’s iconic score swells as the names of one, two, three, four – and more! – famous actors appear on the screen.

I turn to my sister.  “This movie’s going to be EPIC.  I can feel it.”

And it was.  It is.

After watching The Magnificent Seven for the first time, my brother, Noah, said that if he’d watched it when he was a kid, he’d probably have been bored for most of it, and I think that’s true.  (True for me, too.)  The Magnificent Seven is a lot more thoughtful than I expected it to be, with large chunks of the film more talking than fighting.  I can appreciate snappy dialogue and emotionally charged scenes much better now that I’m older, although something was wrong with our speaker system the first time I watched Mag7, which meant that I missed a lot of great lines.  (I watched it for the second time just yesterday, with much clearer sound, and I was amazed at how much I hadn’t heard the first time around.)  Lines like…

“We deal in lead, friend.” –Vin (Because that line can’t be left out of any review of this movie.  It just can’t.)

“I’ve been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.” –Chris

“Graveyards are full of boys who are very young and very proud.” –Chris

“You hear that? We’re trapped! All forty of us!” –Calvera

“We come cheaper by the bunch.” –Harry

“The worst.  I was aiming for the horse.” –Britt

“I’m doing this because I’m an eccentric millionaire.” –Bernardo

There are so many more, too – I could write a post stuffed full of all my favorite quotes from this movie (and maybe I will someday), but I should probably get on to the rest of the review now.  And how better to continue than talk about all the wonderful characters that deliver the above lines?

Chris and Vin.  Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.  The two stars were constantly trying to upstage each other during filming, but on-screen, the characters have a great working relationship, if not an actual friendship.  I’ve seen Yul Brynner in two other films – The King And I and The Ten Commandments – and this is, by far, my favorite role of his.  Chris gets some of the best lines, his outfit is nifty (all black, for the win!), and he’s the one who’s responsible for getting everyone together, through a variety of means.  When I first watched The Magnificent Seven, I thought The Seven would already be assembled, ready and waiting to defend a village of poor Mexicans.  I was wrong, of course, but I actually prefer the film the way it is – each ‘let’s-get-this-guy-on-our-side’ scene provides instant characterization for each character, which is entertaining, interesting, and all around good story telling.  And Chris is the center that the entire team revolves around.

And then there’s Vin.  Who is cool.  So cool, in fact, that I don’t have enough words to describe how cool he was.  (Of course, a lot of it has to do with the fact that Steve McQueen plays him – I’ve found that a lot of movie characters are what their actors make them, although Vin is great in his own right.)  The way he calmly pours himself a drink while Chico’s going crazy inside the saloon.  The way he delivers so many of his lines with a sort of casual rebelliousness.  Or how every time a new man is added to the team, he holds up another finger.  (I also love the little shaky hand motion he does after Lee leaves and Chris holds up six fingers.)  Just…oh, he’s EPIC EPIC EPIC.

Speaking of Lee, I think he and Harry are the two members of the Mag7 that I don’t really ‘get’.  What I understood of Lee was that he’s on the run from…somebody, I don’t really know who.  He’s plagued by nightmares, worried about losing his touch, and a bundle of nerves.  (Okay, I guess I do understand him pretty well.)  Harry, however, is always talking about money and gold and gemstones and I never really got why.  But I have a pretty good grasp of everyone else.  Chico, for one, even though I really, really don’t like him.  In my opinion, the screenwriters should have cut out Cliched, Angsty Kid With Love Interest, and put in someone like Rip Torn in as the magnificent seventh.

“When I brought back the news, you should have seen the look I got from Britt. And Chris. And they have seen a thing or two in their time, and-and done them, too. They aren’t men you can impress easily, oh, no! When they looked at me… I knew I was one of them at last.” –Chico

No.  Just…no.  

Although it was pretty brave of him to sneak into Calvera’s camp, even if he should’ve quietly taken Chris aside and told him what he’d learned, instead of barging in, trying to be cool, and making everyone go into a panic.  Oh, and it is kind of funny how he’s such a fanboy (which I guess I can’t blame him for).  Whenever one of the seven – mostly Britt or Chris – do something amazing/epic/perfect, he’s always right there saying something like “THAT WAS THE GREATEST SHOT IN THE HISTORY OF EVER I WISH I COULD BE EPIC LIKE YOU GUYS.”  (Yes, I’m exaggerating.  But only a little.)

James Coburn is Britt.  I think he only gets eleven lines or so, but in spite of that (and probably because of it) he’s still epic.  Most of his lines make a powerful impression, and he’s such a cool, mysterious, competent person.  The way he stands behind the stone wall, calm as anything, firing off shot after shot.  Or how he somersaults behind that little table during the first attack.  Or when he joins Chris in Glaring At The Mexican Farmers after Chico brings word that Calvera’s preparing to attack again.  (Trust me, you don’t want to get on Britt’s – or Chris’ – bad side.)  Henshaw (from Hell Is For Heroes) is still my favorite Coburn character, but Britt just might outrank him one of these days.  His introductory scene?  Pure awesomeness.  (The video I linked to doesn’t include the first half, which is a shame, but you’ll still get a great taste of Britt’s character.)

“Nobody throws me my own guns and says ‘Run’. Nobody.” –Britt

And…

“I changed my mind.” –Britt

My favorite Charles Bronson role is indubitably Bernardo.  The way he is around kids…it makes me smile.  (Although the fact that those three boys ended up getting him killed did NOT make me happy.  I hated how everyone started dropping like flies right at the very end.)

Who am I forgetting? ……..  OH.  Calvera!  How could I forget him?  I enjoy villains who are more than just *rubs hands together in fiendish delight while watching thousands of farmers’ homes burn to the ground*.  Villains that are human (I don’t mean in the ‘tragic backstory/unrequited love’ way either), who are more than just their villainous deeds.  Villains who are, perhaps, charming and amusing while they carry out their crimes – the kind you love to hate, and hate to love (but sometimes you just can’t help yourself).  And Calvera is certainly all that, and more.  He makes me laugh, he makes me angry, but he never, ever bores me.  He is an excellent villain, worthy of having The Seven as his opponents.

Isn’t Britt’s horse lovely? Unique, too – a silvery mane and tail combined with that bay coat.

Like I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago, this is another one of ‘those movies’ where half of the main characters die.  BUT BRITT GOT TO THROW HIS LAST KNIFE AND HARRY CAME BACK AND BERNARDO DIED BECAUSE HE WAS PROTECTING THOSE KIDS AND LEE PROVED HIMSELF AT THE VERY END.  AND I’M JUST VERY EMOTIONAL ABOUT THE WHOLE THING.

Anywayyyyyyy.

Wow.  This review is long.  Sorry about that, Chief. 

Until next time!

Eva

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6 thoughts on “movie review: the magnificent seven

  1. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, how I love this movie.

    I think that Harry is convinced that someone as talented and well-known as Chris would not be doing a job like this for $20, and so Harry reasons there must be some secret motive behind this. And Lee has lost his nerve — he’s on the run from people he’s gone up against previously and doesn’t have the guts to face them anymore. He talks big, and he was a good gunhand once, but he’s a coward now.

    And sorry, but I think this movie needs Chico. It needs someone to represent us, the audience — Chico’s exclamations of awe and reverence are what we’d be saying if we were in his place. He also serves to help highlight how magnificent the others are, because otherwise it’d just be a bunch of indigent farmers being impressed, and what do they know? And he also serves to put the “heroics” of these gunfighters in perspective. Is it heroic to kill people and then ride away? Or is it heroic to stay and live a very difficult life honorably? Bernardo tries to make that point for his 3 tagalongs, but it’s Chico’s choice at the end that drives it home.

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  2. Well, I can’t say I like Chico much more, but your comment DID make me see his character in a different light. 🙂 Remember, I’ve known Mag7 for less than two weeks, and you’ve known it for (I assume?) several years, so I haven’t had much time to really dissect character traits and types and think deep thoughts about the whole thing. But that will come in time, I’m sure.

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    • Oh, yes, I quite understand! I’ve loved this movie for two decades, so I get a little… overenthusiastic about it sometimes 🙂 I hope you didn’t think I meant you *have* to like Chico — I was just explaining why I personally think he’s needed.

      It took me until like my 5th viewing to finally figure out what Vin and Britt’s names were. We didn’t have imdb.com to look things up on back then, and the first copy we had didn’t have close captioning, so that was no help either. So yes, I well remember getting to know these characters and spending hours discussing them with my brother as we tried to absorb every bit of brilliance.

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      • Well, the first time I watched Mag7, the volume was acting up (like I mentioned), so I didn’t catch ANYONE’S names. It took the little pamphlet inside the DVD case and Wikipedia to help keep everyone straight. (That’s one thing I appreciated about Hell Is For Heroes – the little montage at the end that puts names to all the faces, which was really helpful the first time I watched it.)

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  3. Pingback: seven awesome things about Mag7 | coffee, classics, & craziness

  4. Pingback: MOVIE REVIEW | The Magnificent Seven (1960) – Bored and Dangerous

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