My father introduced me to The Magnificent Seven when I was 7 years old. We were channel flipping, and we sat back on his big red sectional and settled in with a bowl of candy corn and circus peanuts. He told me the music was Elmer Bernstein doing Aaron Copland (he used to wake me and my brother up with “Fanfare for the Common Man” blasting from the hi-fi speaker set tailored made for a newly divorced man) and that the picture was based on a Japanese film. These tidbits were of no particular interest to me at the time. I was too busy trying to figure out who of the seven gunmen I wanted to grow up to be, and as the film progressed, I became increasingly alarmed at the potential demise of any or all of them. Indeed, as aptly put by one fan, “This is the sole reason we spent half of our preadolescence prancing around our houses with plastic guns, cowboy hats and an overwhelming desire to become heroes. Just like them.”
50 years later, I have come to the somewhat disheartening realization that I grew up to be none of the characters. Certainly not Yul Brynner, the cool as a cucumber King of Siam refashioned as a man in black. Nor Steve McQueen, the steady, wry “talker” of the crew (I can talk, but rarely in McQueen’s pithy homilies).
I never neared the lanky, laconic quick draw that was James Coburn, who utters the coolest line in film history
It gets no better than that, at 7 or 57.
Nor was I the brawny, decent Charles Bronson; the gold-greedy, laugh-having Brad Dexter; or the hot-headed kid who idolizes the crew (Horst Bucholz). Now, there are times I have felt as cowardly and unsure as Robert Vaughn, but in reality, I ended up being none of those dudes.
Half a century later, where mowing the lawn and an occasional campout are as close as I get to the frontier, I feel more like bad guy Eli Wallach, who runs into seven hired guns and damned if they didn’t all find Jesus at the same time. Wallach is a middle-management crook who steals what he wants from the peasants but otherwise, seems affable enough. And he can’t comprehend his bad luck. His last words, to Brynner:
“You came back for a place like this. Why? A man like you? Why?”
If you don’t know the film, the plot is simple. Six professional gunmen and one wannabe sign up for a pittance to protect a poor Mexican town that is being repeatedly ransacked and worse by a band of thugs led by Wallach. It is the best of 60s Hollywood. Strong characters, tight dialogue, solid action, sweeping cinematography, a rousing score, liberal sentiments (“You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground”) presented in conservative reality (“We deal in lead, friend”), and, to boot, a girl and a boy fall in love
Two asides. First, one has to hand it to director John Sturges for dexterous casting. A Russian Brynner plays a Cajun, and proud sons of Berlin (Bucholz) and Red Hook (Wallach) play Mexicans. Ah. Simpler times.
Second, they loosely re-made this picture and the result was a filmic carbuncle.
On Hulu and sporadically, everything else.