A small farming community is being terrorised by a band of thieves and murderers, led by the charismatic but ruthless Calvera (Eli Wallach, previously only known to my girlfriend as the elderly neighbour in The Holiday). He and his gang steal almost everything worth taking from the villagers, leaving them just enough to carry on farming for another year, at which point Calvera will return and repeat the process over again. Sick of this injustice, three villagers head to the nearest saloon and recruit someone to either train or protect them, finding Yul Brynner’s Chris as the perfect fit for the role after he volunteers for something that could get him killed, and offers no reward – a situation very similar to that of defending the village. Chris then goes about assembling a team – you can probably guess how many – of similarly minded men based on Chris’ previous dealings with them or their reputations.
The line-up has since become a member of the great pantheon of Pub Quiz Questions – I can never remember Brad Dexter or Horst Buchholz, but I’ve won a DVD by naming James Coburn before. The remaining members are Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn and, of course, Steve McQueen, who all have various reasons for signing up, be it running from the law, spotting a money-making opportunity or just plain boredom.
This is one of those films that I remembered through a rose-tinted haze as being a far greater film than it turned out to be. It’s not a bad film, not at all, it’s just not the stone-cold classic I had remembered. My main problem was in the amount of time it took for the Seven to assemble, and the attempts to shed doubt on whether certain members will join or not. It’s clear from the very title of the film that there will be a group of seven defending the village, but the group isn’t together until about halfway through the film! Also, I felt that for the most part enough screentime was given to each of the seven, except for Buchholz’s Chico being given far too much time as the young rookie looking to prove himself, and Coburn’s stoic knife-throwing Britt barely getting a look in after receiving the best introduction of the guys. I’m especially sore about Coburn because he’s my favourite character (and accent) in The Great Escape (coming soon), and he voiced Waternoose in Monsters, Inc. Most of the seven are given some kind of arc of character trait, but Britt’s appears to be just falling asleep under any available tree, and being completely unable to hide behind cover whilst shooting.
Based on The Seven Samurai, I had hoped to watch Akira Kurosawa’s classic epic before seeing The Magnificent Seven again, but alas my Steve McQueen adventures and requests from my weekly movie night made this impossible, but hopefully I’ll get to it soon. What I hadn’t realised is that this film was also remade (not as Battle Beyond The Stars, I haven’t seen that yet), but as A Bug’s Life. Granted, the plots aren’t identical, but there are some startling similarities. I’m not entirely sure how happy Charles Bronson would be to know he’d been recast as a ladybird.
There are some gloriously over the top death sequences, and the finale is a great shoot out, though it doesn’t compare to some other classic ones. It’s a very enjoyable film, but alas it’s not the one I remembered. Still the best Steve McQueen film I’ve seen so far on this journey.
Choose film 7/10