A while back my wife and I got on to a kick of watching Steve McQueen films. Which I gotta say, I have seen a few of them now and each one of the ones that I have seen from his work are nothing more then sheer brilliance! Things like The Blob (1958) to Junior Bonner (1972)
With that said, there is another side to McQueen’s work that I have also grown to really enjoy, and that is his laid back old west type of movies.
Junior Bonner in which McQueen plays a rodeo cowboy who is down on his luck, and how when he gets back to his home town is superb! I mean the way he plays the role with a calm, collected sort of way that he has with alot of his moves is nothing more then sheer, dare I say it? AWESOME!
Another one of these movies that he has done, and which I just saw again that I also think is completely awesome, is the Magnificent Seven…
Written by: William Roberts (Red Sun) and Directed by: John Sturges (The Eagle Has Landed) and starring Yul Brynner (Westworld), Steve McQueen (Bullitt), Charles Bronson (The Mechanic) Robert Vaughn (The Warrior Class) Brad Dexter (Winter Kills) James Coburn (Maverick) Horst Buchholz (In der Mitte eienes Lebens) and Eli Wallach (Mystic River)
In the 19th century, having a gun strapped to your side and riding a horse was as standard for people all over the world as driving a vehicle, and having your cell phone strapped to your side is in the present day for people all over the world…
With that said, there is a village in 19th century Mexico that doesn’t actually have any weapons at all! Now this village is currently under siege by a gang of bandits that are lead by the charismatic leader Calvera (Wallach). This gang of thieves and cut throats raid the village regularly for food and other supplies to keep themselves alive!
During one of their latest raids, and during the time that Calvera is talking with one of the village elders, while his men steal what ever they can get their hands on. A lone villager who finally gets fed up with being afraid and having this gang constantly stealing their food grabs a mini scythe and runs at them shouting… Of course Calvera dispatches with him easily and quickly.
After the gang leaves, the village has a meeting to decide what to do about the gang, which leads them to ‘The Old Man’ (Played: Vladimir Sokoloff), so that the old man could decide on the best way to dispatch with the gang. Of course the old man tells the elders that they gotta fight. He goes on to tell them that they should go up to a border town on the U.S. side and buy weapons their… They have no money so the old man gives one of the village elders an old gold pocket watch and tells them to go and sell that and what ever else they can get their hands on along the way.
So they’re off. The 3 elders that had talked with the old man head for one of the border towns on the U.S. side. When they get to the town where they are going to buy their weapons, they are first taking in the sight of relatively clean people, all with guns at their side.
This is when a disturbance is heard down one of the boulevards. They go to check it out and a whole group of people are standing around watching as a salesman, his partner and an undertaker are arguing over the fact that the local undertaker can’t bury an Indian man because some people in the town won’t allow his burial due to the fact that the man being buried is an Indian!
This is where the first 3 of the Magnificent Seven come in to play… Chris (Brynner) gets tired of hearing the three men arguing and pretty much just takes the reins and literally hops up on to the undertakers carriage stating that he will take the man up to the cemetery to be buried.
Another one who happened to be standing their watching the whole thing is Vin (McQueen) a flat broke gunslinger who asks the man next to him if he can borrow his scatter shot rifle. The man obliges him and hands Vin the gun, to which Vin then jumps up on to the carriage and the two ride off up the hill toward the cemetery together. During this time both Vin and Chris are watching out for anyone on the road.
When they make it up the hill they are stopped by a group of 4 men who are all brandishing weapons. They tell Vin and Chris to take the dead body back down the hill. Their is a tense moment before one of the four men begins to take aim, at which point Chris shoots two of them. After this the moment is over and the coffin is interred safely and everyone goes back down to the town. While all of this is going down Chico (Buchholz) is watching them.
This is what prompts the villages elders to decide to talk to Chris about enlisting his assistance in finding weaponry. When the elders finally do get to Chris though, Chris decides after hearing their plight, that it would be better to hire a couple of gunslingers for their cause. The elders eventually after some persuading, enlist Chris in their quest to find people to protect their village, and that is where it gets interesting.
The first thing that Chris tries to do is basically hold interviews. Which the best it produces is a good laugh at Chico’s expense, and the hiring of a friend of his ‘Harry’, (Played by: Dexter) who decides to help them out thinking that their is more money in it then the pittance that the villagers are able to pay him.
Chris’s next stop is to the local saloon where he is just sitting having a drink with the elders and waiting for Vin to show up and spend the money he has gambling… Which he proceeds to do when he shows up. After Vin spends his money, he finds out that Chris wanted to buy him a drink, which he accepts. Vin walks over to the table and sits down to talk. Chris makes him the offer to join him in defending the village to which Vin reluctantly accepts.
Their next stop is to talk with Bernardo O’Reilly (Bronson) a half Mexican, half Irish soldier for hire of some note. who is basically taking odd jobs to feed himself at this point because he is basically down on his luck. When Chris and Vin make him the offer. Bernardo agree’s to it in that cool stoic Charles Bronson way that has made him so famous!
After that and with this being their last meeting before heading back to town, Chris and Vin look up Britt (Coburn) Britt is a man who is as good with a knife as he is with a gun (And believe me when I say that he is pretty damn good with both.) When Chris and Vin arrive at where Britt is at, Britt is currently within a debate with this big mouthed old dude who is trying to get Britt to do one of his knife throwing tricks, to which he proceeds to do so, but kills the man instead of doing something fancy with it… At first he refuses.
When they get back to the hotel that Chris is staying at, they find out that Chris has a visitor who is in his room. Cautiously both Chris and Vin make it up to the room only to find out that it is Lee (Vaughn). Lee was once a famous gunslinger/bounty hunter, who after loosing his confidence, pretty much spirals in to his own elements of self destruction, and who actually has to persuade Chris in to letting him ride along (Unlike the others.)
Now with six of the Magnificent Seven together, and Chico (the other member of the Magnificent Seven) following them. They all set off to the village, to help protect a village that has been plagued by raids for years by Calvera and his bandits, and to train these same villagers to shoot guns before Calvera can come back to take what he wants!
What I liked about this movie and why I am still convinced that this truly is an awesome b movie is for a couple of reasons:
1. When I first starting watching McQueen’s films, the second one that I had watched was The Great Escape (1963). which starred (Drum roll please…) Steve McQueen, James Coburn and… Charles Bronson with director John Sturges also directing them in this film. I really liked The Great Escape, so it was a real treat to be able to watch them re-unite for The Magnificent Seven (even though The Magnificent Seven came first.)
2. I also liked watching Yul Brynner in action… This man in my opinion probably defines westerns in a similar way as John Wayne did, or as Clint Eastwood did, except with out the accent!
3. I also thought that the locations that were used in the movie were just spectacular!
4. Lastly I thought I would send out some props to John Sturges, who’s vision for this film has translated so well, that his film has stood the test of time!
The last thing that I would say on this, which is something I did not know until I was check out the movie on the web, but did you know that The Magnificent Seven was actually a remake of an older Japanese film called Seven Samurai (1954)?
Lastly if your in the mood for a good western, then I highly recommending you check out The Magnificent Seven. I think you might really like it!