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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Magnificent Seven is the movie that inspired The Three Amigos, and the inspiration was pretty direct. I would even suggest that The Three Amigos was more of a tribute than a spoof, as The Three Amigos took everything from the small Mexican town setting to the soundtrack from The Magnificent Seven. In my anticipation of seeing this movie, I wondered how Yul Brynner could ever play a convincing cowboy, and now I know.

This is the movie that broke Steve McQueen’s career wide open, but it almost never happened for McQueen. During the shooting of the movie, McQueen was constantly doing small things not in the script to draw attention to himself. Much of what McQueen did was left in the final cut, and that never really pleased Yul Brynner. At that point in time, Brynner was the biggest star in Hollywood and this was his project. But by the time filming was over, Steve McQueen proved to be Brynner’s equal in many ways.

The Magnificent Seven is the American version of the great Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Magnificent Seven director John Sturges knew he was taking a chance by drawing direct inspiration from Kurosawa, but it paid off when Kurosawa sent Sturges an inscribed samurai sword in appreciation of The Magnificent Seven.

This is one of those classics that is probably flawed more than any other, but remains a great movie. Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is considered to be one of the greatest ever created, but yet it was only a runner-up at the Academy Awards. Yul Brynner proved to be a more than competent cowboy, and he brought a cool intensity to the Wild West that I had never seen before. Throughout the entire film, there was no doubt that Brynner’s character Chris was in charge, despite Steve McQueen’s best efforts.

The movie opens with what can only be described as a bizarre, yet amazing, scene. Brynner and McQueen drive a coffin-bearing carriage a couple of hundred yards through and old Western town and up to a typical Western cemetery. This is our first introduction to Brynner and McQueen in this movie, and it is extremely effective. The mood is tense, and the point of view we are given only helps to heighten the tension. By the time the scene is over, we are left thinking “That’s it?” But it was done so well, that it felt like it lasted hours.

I hate to keep bringing this up, but I think it requires discussion. Yul Brynner was a Russian playing an American cowboy. While we have seen plenty of foreigners play cowboys before, none were or have been more effective than Brynner. What made Yul Brynner great was his understanding of his own physical attributes versus the characters he played. His lines in The Magnificent Seven were relatively limited to short sentences. He gave almost no long speeches, and when he did he would chop them up in that Brynner way. At no point throughout the movie, did you get the feeling that he was a Russian playing an American cowboy. His ability to play to his strengths and suppress his weaknesses is just one of the things that made him great, and one of the things that makes this movie so wonderful.

Yul Brynner actually starred in a few American Westerns, but none were as successful as The Magnificent Seven. The ensemble cast in this film includes Brynner, McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, and Eli Wallach. When great actors come together to do a fun movie, a classic will sometimes emerge. That is what happened with The Magnificent Seven.

Why do I call this movie the most flawed of all of the classics? Because there are plenty of moments that make you stop and shake your head with disbelief. The bad guy had the Seven in his grips, and then suddenly let them go. Not only that, but he gave the Seven their guns back. At the beginning of the movie, Steve McQueen fires several rounds into an open window because Yul Brynner thought he saw someone move the curtains. What happened to whoever was in that room? Why was McQueen allowed to arbitrarily fire into an open window like that?

Despite its canyon-sized cracks, this movie stands the test of time. This is one of those movies that is going to be re-made, but I don’t think the remake will stand up to the original at all. This movie was extremely difficult for the cast and crew to make, but the end result was something that I could watch over and over again. You can remake a script with new actors, but you cannot capture the same lightning in a bottle that the original did. With The Magnificent Seven, there is no way Hollywood could ever make this movie again. That is why it is considered a classic.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5

+George N Root III is a drive-in fanatic who loves them old cowboy movies. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3 or send him a message at

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