Monday, July 18, 2011

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Mediocre Seven

- The seven supposedly magnificent heroes in 1960's The Magnificent Seven are described by a Mexican town elder as being "like the wind." I would actually raise the Mexican town elder by attributing the metaphor to the entire film: Yes, The Magnificent Seven is "like the wind".... empty, lightweight, and transparent.

A western remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), The Magnificent Seven is about seven deadly killers with hearts of gold who help protect a Mexican village from a pestilent group of snarly banditos. Heralded by many as a great western and an ultimate guy movie, I found The Magnificent Seven to be little more than a flat and lifeless two hours.

Part of the draw to The Magnificent Seven is supposedly its big cast of future stars – but, for me, this cast of (now) household names is what I particularly disliked the most about the film. The characters in my opinion were not interesting in the least and the actors who portrayed them did little to improve what was on paper. Let's meet them, shall we?!!

Yul Brynner stars as Chris, the ringleader of this magnificent bunch. I am unable to take Brynner seriously in general – as all I can think of when I see him is "ETCETERAH! ETCETERAH! ETCETERAH!" – and his performance here in The Magnificent Seven does nothing to remedy my bias. Brynner does not convince much as an indestructible gunslinger in the first place and does not add anything to the character to make him compelling. To add insult to injury, he is expectedly hammy; although, perhaps for him, the performance is on the quieter side. But, to be fair, what performance is not quieter than Brynner in The King And I (1956) - aside from maybe Al Pacino in Scarface (1983)? I do not necessarily subscribe to the notion that we are all defined by our leaders – but in the case of The Magnificent Seven I think the idea rings true: Brynner is an uninteresting lead and his co-stars follow suit.

The Magnificent Seven has an array of bland performances of a bland cast of characters – one can find greater depth of character in a Sunday morning comic strip. Future superstar Steve McQueen plays Vin, Chris' right-hand but reluctant gunslinger – and he is drier than a raisin on Mars. Funny-talking tough guy (the Mike Tyson of movies) Charles Bronson would see better days in the movies than his bland turn here in this film as the tender kid-loving gorilla O'Reilly (let me get this straight, the towns people told their women to say away from these guys but not their kids????). Then there is Robert Vaughn who, on top of being unintentionally hilarious in his role as the weepy gunfighter Lee, looks like he stumbled off of the stage starring as Frank Butler in an all-gay backyard production of Annie Get Your Gun.

What are we up to? Three? Four? Well, allow me to continue.... One would think that Eli Wallach would have risen the film's acting level up a notch or two but even he gives a boring performance as the completely uninspired villain Calvera. Wallach does plenty of scowling, sneering, growling, and leaning forward towards the camera before a line delivery throughout the film but never does anything remotely interesting with the character. James Coburn fairs the best out of the entire cast as Red the sleepy knife-thrower. I cannot say too many bad things about Coburn's performance since he has a good enough presence to make the character somewhat likable but it really is not much to write home about in the long run. As Harry Luck, Brad Dexter gives the most forgettable performance in the film. I know that sounds bad but it actually makes him one of the better performers in the film since most of the performances stand out as awful.

And the performance that hands down takes the blue ribbon home for the most awful performance in the entire film is Horst Buchholtz's performance as Chico. Wow is this guy awful in this movie; he makes Hayden Christensen look like Paul Newman. At a certain point in the film, unfortunately very early on, any amusement with Buchholtz's hilariously bad squirmy demeanor and obnoxiously over-the-top line deliveries wears off and the viewer cannot decide if they feel more irritated by the character or just plain embarrassed for the actor. You wonder if you can take any more of the guy after his inadvertently funny yet insufferable attempt to take on Yul Brynner's character in the bar - but then you see his ridiculous address to the townspeople.... and then you get to the scene shortly after featuring Buchholtz trying to approach the bull in the forest, which is painfully awkward.... and then only a few seconds later you see him when he first meets the girl in the forest, which is unwatchable.... and so on and so on - etceterah, ETCETERAH-ETC---OH THE INSANITY! How can anyone be *this bad* in a movie????

Before you come back with some kind of variation of "Come on, man! This movie is not about good characters or good acting, it's about having fun watching the mellifluous seven shoot Mexican bandits like fish in a barrel!!!!"- the action is not particularly exciting either; nothing got my blood pumping at any point in the film, anyway. Most of the film contains scenes in which Chris and Vin try to assemble the rag-tag team of gunslingers so that there can actually be a movie and only the last thirty or forty-five minutes has any action in it. Also, some of the action pieces are flat-out bad, looking more like kids at play than a believable fight among professional killers. This ordinary, flavorless action in conjunction with the film's vast amount of poor performances and dull characters all add up to The Magnificent Seven feeling more like The Mediocre Seven.

CBC Rating: 5/10

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