Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

This is another case where I own the Western remake of an Akira Kurosawa film, but not the original movie.  Though in my defence, Seven Samurai is approximately 85 hours long.

For those of you who somehow don't know, the premise of the film is simple.  A village of poor farmers is regularly raided by bandits.  The brigands carry off most of the food, leaving just enough for the farmers to scrape through until the next time they are robbed.  Tiring of this never-ending cycle, the villagers gather together what few items of value they have and go to a border town to buy guns.  But weapons are expensive (not to mention they don't really know how to use them).  The advice they get is "Hire men.  Men are cheaper than guns, these days."

And so that's what they do: seven men in all, as you might have guessed from the title.  The pay they offer is meagre, and the risks great, but each of the seven has his own motives for taking the job.  For most, an inability or unwillingness to earn a living any other way plays a significant factor.

So we've got a pretty iconic set-up: a small band of heroes (for want of a better word) trying to fend off a much larger group of marauders.  And we have a very strong cast assembled here: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson and - the cream of the crop in my estimation - Eli Wallach.  There's a whole lot of charisma on screen and it mostly - mostly - compensates for a jarring misstep in the script about 90 minutes into the film.  You'll know it when you get to it.

The Magnificent Seven is a film that starts stronger than it ends, but it is worth seeing for the opening act alone, which does a great job of introducing a large cast of characters and giving them all unique identities.  It's a great object lesson in cinematic efficiency.

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