Apparently, no director has ever needed a good script more than John Sturges. His work in The Magnificent Seven is static, the camera as disinterested in the film’s goings-on as the majority of the cast. He lets the camera sit and stare, cutting when it wakes up from its nap. He also appears not to have shot enough coverage for the film–or any explanatory establishing shots, so there’s no good sense of the film’s setting. The lack of coverage means the cuts are ugly and fades are overused. Elmer Bernstein’s omnipresent score (poorly) covers Sturges’s ass throughout, the glue holding whole sequences together.
Before we started the movie, I told the fiancée the theme was the best thing about The Magnificent Seven. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty much the only good thing… Yul Brynner’s the lead and the protection of the farmers is the story and the scenes with them together are brain-numbing. The only time Brynner ever shows any life is during the bromance scenes with Steve McQueen. Those are mostly all of McQueen’s scenes so he doesn’t do anything else. Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughan actually have characters and Sturges treats them well (all Sturges needs is some real content–even the illusion of depth–and The Magnificent Seven doesn’t even make an exiguous offering). Their stories are the only time Seven gets interesting (the McQueen and Brynner bromance, however, is all the more amusing since Brynner hated McQueen). James Coburn has so little to do in the film he’s practically invisible.
The biggest problem–besides the terrible writing and the Hispanic cast speaking lame English dialogue–is Horst Buchholz, who has the most important role in the film. Buchholz is German (with the accent to prove it), playing a Mexican farmboy who wants to be a gunfighter. Calling his performance bad is like calling the sun hot.
Technically, the film’s in between. Great day for night photography, terrible sets. Whenever they get on a set, which is often, Sturges’s ability oozes from an exposed boil. The lifeless shots get even worse.
The Magnificent Seven is a chore of a film to watch, even though, in a historical sense, it’s rather important. Lots of filmmakers saw this film and then made good movies instead of ones like it.
Directed and produced by John Sturges; screenplay by William Roberts, based on a film written by Kurosawa Akira, Hashimoto Shinobu and Oguni Hideo; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by United Artists.
Starring Yul Brynner (Chris), Eli Wallach (Calvera), Steve McQueen (Vin), Horst Buchholz (Chico), Brad Dexter (Harry), Charles Bronson (O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), James Coburn (Britt), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Man), Rosenda Monteros (Petra) and Jorge Martinez de Hoyos (Hilario).