And then there was one... Fifty years later, Robert Vaughn is the only member of The Magnificent Seven still left alive. But as icons on the western landscape, they’re as immortal as Monument Valley.
Well, apart from Brad Dexter, who lives on as a pub-quiz answer. And Horst Buchholz. Who? Exactly.
Amazingly, the film’s best role – made famous by Toshiro Mifune’s feral, ferocious performance in Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – went to a German actor making his American debut as a Mexican gunfighter called Chico. Go figure.
But remaking Kurosawa’s original – itself inspired by John Ford’s saddle sagas – as an all-star western was a no-brainer.
It remains one of the most entertaining movies in the genre, as Hollywood alpha males Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn and Robert Vaughn crank up the charisma to play seven gunslingers hired to defend Mexican peasants from Eli Wallach’s pack of greedy bandito bastards.
Scene stealers Stage-trained Wallach took it very seriously indeed, asking the locals to teach him to shoot and snarl and having actual bandits play his henchmen. Everyone else just had a blast.
Despite having genre classics Bad Day At Black Rock and Gunfight At The OK Corral under his belt, director John Sturges was no Kurosawa – emotional depth and thrilling tragedy are jettisoned in favour of popcorn fun and macho posturing.
There’s a ton of both to be had watching McQueen attempt to steal every scene away from Brynner.
If the two stars’ ego-joust during the film’s shoot is old news, there’s lots of trivia to chew on, served up via the commentary (Wallach, Coburn, producer Walter Mirisch, assistant director Robert Relyea) and Making Of doc Guns For Hire.
Choice cuts? How Brynner, who initially intended to direct, registered the title The Magnificent Six when he thought one of the characters would be dropped. How McQueen faked a car accident in order to escape a TV series he was contracted to so that he could do the film.
How Anthony Quinn sued Brynner after being excluded from the project. How Chinatown’s genius DoP John Alonzo began his career as an actor in the film. How Kurosawa was so impressed with Seven that he sent Sturges a ceremonial sword as a gift.
The extras are lifted directly from the Special Edition DVD, but this Blu-ray gives a noticeable pump to the visuals. Although there’s still some dirt and damage on the print, this is most probably the best The Magnificent Seven has looked on the small screen.
A full-tilt restoration is surely just a matter of time, mind. Hopefully Vaughn will get to see it.