Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, and Eli Wallach in The Magnificent Seven (1960)


(director: John Sturges; screenwriters: William Roberts/Walter Bernstein/Walter Newman; cinematographer: Charles Lang Jr.; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Yul Brynner (Chris Adams), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin), Brad Dexter (Harry Luck), Charles Bronson (Bernardo O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), Horst Buchholz (Chico), James Coburn (Britt), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old man); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Sturges; MGM Home Entertainment; 1960)
“An inferior remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 action classic The Seven Samurai, though worth seeing because of the star performances.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Sturges (“The Great Escape”) helms an inferior remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 action classic The Seven Samurai, though worth seeing because of the star performances; the feel-good screenplay offering American mercenaries as the “good guys” is by William Roberts. It has become one of the most popular Westerns ever, a precursor to the spaghetti westerns. Instead of seven swordsmen protecting a Japanese farming village from bandits, there’s seven gunslingers protecting a Mexican farming village. Elmer Bernstein’s memorable film theme musical score was lifted by Marlboro cigarettes to be used in their commercials as its leitmotif.

Yul Brynner plays Chris, the commanding mercenary leader dressed in all-black who hires six other drifters for the meager pay of $20 plus room and board to protect a Mexican farming village from its yearly invasion by gold-toothed bandit leader Calvera (Eli Wallach). After the farming village is threatened by Calvera in the film’s opening, the village’s elder (Vladimir Sokoloff) advises them to buy guns and fight or perish. In the Texas border town the farmers witness the bravery of Chris and the easy-going Vin (Steve McQueen), who drive a hearse carrying a dead Indian and face off with bigots who refuse to have an Indian buried with white men in Boot Hill. Even though the heroes don’t know each other, they agree to work for the farmers. Chris then recruits the other five — the greedy Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), the noble cowhand Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), the fugitive Lee (Robert Vaughn), the aspiring groupie Chico (Horst Buchholz), and the expert knife thrower Britt (James Coburn). The difference from Kurosawa’s version is that he made this recruitment the film’s centerpiece and kept it exciting, while in this version it was tedious to watch the recruitment and training of the mercenaries.

The film’s theme supports the premise of a group of egotists coming together for a cause and to show off their fighting skills (giving the viewer some action-packed scenes), which became a theme much duplicated because of this film. This differs from Kurosawa’s samurais, who do it as a matter of following a traditional honor code and as a social responsibility. This gave Kurosawa’s film the tense dramatic atmosphere that Sturges’s film lacked, as it instead relied on its stars to be entertaining and the plot line to be secondary. It spawned three sequels, many imitations and a television series. There was much talk about a growing bitterness between Brynner and McQueen during filming. Brynner didn’t appreciate McQueen trying to upstage him by doing little distracting scenery-stealing gestures when they were on together and McQueen had no dialogue.