Today’s movie is the western testosterone fest, with a grouping of some of the manliest men of all time, The Magnificent Seven (1960). The plot is very simple. Seven down on the luck American gunfighters go south to protect a Mexican village from bandits. The movie is a western adaptation of the Akira Kurosawa masterpiece Seven Samurai (1954).
On to the actors.
Today we have a lot of veterans.
Yul Brynner played super cool gunfighter, Chris Larabee Adams. Brynner was covered in Episode 68 – The Buccaneer (1958).
Charles Bronson was cast as gunfighter Bernardo O’Reilly, half Mexican/half Irish. Bronson was covered in Episode 17 – Hard Times (1975).
Horst Buchholz played Chico, a would-be gunfighter. Buchholz was covered in Episode 84 –One, Two, Three (1961)
Brad Dexter played gunfighter Harry Luck. Dexter was covered in Episode 38 – 99 River Street (1953).
James Coburn played gunfighter Britt. Coburn was covered in Episode 17 – Hard Times (1975).
Bing Russell had a bit part as Robert. Russell was covered in Episode 12 – Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966).
Valentin de Vargas played one of Calvera Henchman, Santos. Vargas was first discussed in Episode 35 – Blackboard Jungle (1955) as one of the students. He is better known for playing a punk in Touch of Evil (1958).
Steve McQueen played the role of super cool gunfighter Vin Tanner. Terence Steve McQueen was born in 1930 in Indiana. This “king of cool” had a crazy youth. Possibly due to his mother’s drinking, he was sent to live with his grandparents at his Uncles farm in Missouri. He moved back in with his mother but conflicts with his new step-father forced him onto the streets where he engaged in petty crimes. He was returned to the farm. At the age of 12, he went to LA to live with his mother and new step-father. He was quickly in conflict with this step-father. He was sent back to the farm. At 14, he left the farm to join a circus but eventually went back to LA and his mother. He continued his street activities and was eventually locked up in the California Junior Boys Republic in Chino. He was released at the age of 16. His mother was not in Greenwich Village and he went there. It was not long before he took a job on a job on a ship as a merchant marine. He jumped ship in the Dominican Republic and became a “towel boy” in a brothel, whatever the heck that means. He made his way back to Texas where he worked odd jobs such as oil worker and lumberjack. Finally, he spent 4-years in the Marine Corp.
McQueen used his GI Bill to study acting. He worked on the stage including Broadway and raced motorcycles for extra money. At the age of 25, he left for Hollywood. He began getting a few bit parts before he landed the lead in a series, “Wanted: Dead or Alive, 1958-1961” where he played a bounty hunter.
His first leading role was in a low-grade sci-fi film that is a lot of fun. The movie was The Blob (1958). Next, he appeared in The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959). He received a role that was meant for Sammy Davis Jr. Sinatra liked McQueen and gave him a lot of face time in Never So Few (1959).
McQueen followed this with a film that is at the top of the man pantheon or mantheon if you will. The movie is the star-packed The Magnificent Seven (1960). He and Yul Brenner were so cool I can barely stand it.
McQueen made two World War II dramas, Hell is for Heroes (1962) and then the War Lover (1962). This was followed by another mantheon film, with the star jammed packed World War II POW tale, The Great Escape (1963) that is loosely based on a true story.
McQueen made a few more films but they were not particularly big hits. He did a great job as a gambler in The Cincinnati Kid (1965) which also had an ensemble cast. He made another western with Nevada Smith (1966) before he made another minor mantheon film as a loner sailor in The Sand Pebble (1966). He was a little out of place in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and then he sent a fourth film to the mantheon. Is that a double double? The fourth film was Bullitt (1968) where McQueen played a detective racing a charged-up Mustang around San Francisco.
Riding this wave, McQueen played a southerner in The Reivers (1969) and then made a racing film, Le Mans (1971) about a 24-hour race in France. You know that is a lot of round and round. He teamed with Director Sam Peckinpah in a contemporary western, Junior Bonner (1972) and The Getaway (1972). McQueen was amazing again in Papillon (1973) playing a prisoner sentenced to life on Devil’s Island with co-star Dustin Hoffman. McQueen took part in the 1970s-disaster craze when he played the fire chief in The Towering Inferno (1974).
McQueen took 4 years off from films before returning in 1978. His last two films were the western Tom Horn (1980) and a bounty hunter film titled The Hunter (1980). He was already getting sick and was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in late 1979.
McQueen traveled to Mexico and engaged in experimental cancer treatments. Sadly he died in November 1980, at the really young age of 50.
Eli Wallach played the leader of the bandits Calvera. Wallach was born in 1915 in Brooklyn, New York. Wallach graduated from the University of Texas but was trained for acting at the Actors Studio and the Neighborhood Playhouse. He made his Broadway debut in 1945.
Wallach’s debut film was Baby Doll (1956). In the Lineup (1958) he played a sharply dressed hitman. However, his big break came as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960). He held his own with Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Cliff, and Thelma Ritter in the amazing John Huston directed, The Misfits (1961). Other great movies include How the West Was Won (1962), The Victors (1963), Moon-Spinners (1964), Lord Jim (1965) and the romcom How to Steal a Million (1966).
Wallach hit it big again when he was given the role of Tuco in the last of director Sergio Leone’s “Dollars Trilogy,” The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). He continued through the 60s and 70s with films like Mackenna’s Gold (1969), Cinderella Liberty (1973), Crazy Joe (1974), The Deep (1977), and The Hunter (1980) with Steve McQueen.
In the 80s he started getting gangster roles like Tough Guys (1986), The Two Jakes (1990), and candy-crazy “Don Altabello” in The Godfather: Part III (1990). He played a rabbi in Keeping the Faith (2000), a quick talking liquor store owner in Mystic River (2003), and a businessman in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Wallach died in 2014 at the age of 98. He had been married to his wife for 66 years.
Robert Vaughn played gunfighter Lee. Vaughn was born in New York City in 1932. He headed out to California when he began studying drama and eventually getting a PhD. in communications. In 1955, he started doing small television roles and uncredited part in movies. He began getting credit roles in 1957 but I am more interested in Teenage Cave Man (1958) where he played the Symbol Maker’s Teenage Son. Vaughn really got noticed for The Young Philadelphians (1959) for which he received an Oscar nomination. The next year, of course, he was in The Magnificent Seven (1960). He worked more in television than in film and eventually was cast as Napoleon Solo in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” 1964-1968.
Follow the amazing success of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Vaughn began working more in film. He teamed with McQueen for Bullitt (1968). Other movies include The Bridge at Remagen (1969) and The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970) but he soon jumped back to television, this time in England.
After half a decade, he returned to America and again worked mostly in television. His films during this period include as S.O.B. (1981), Superman III (1983), The Delta Force (1986), and Black Moon Rising (1986).
He continued to make movies until his death in 2016 from leukemia.
Vladimir Sokoloff played the Old Man of the village, the patriarch. He was born in the Soviet Union in 1889. At his death, this actor and direct had 117 television and film credits. Sokoloff began his education at the University of Moscow but left to join the Moscow Academy of Dramatic Arts. He worked as a director and assistant director for a decade before moving to Berlin in 1923. He worked there for another decade or so until those damn Nazis started messing stuff up. He moved to Paris and then to the US in 1937. He was given mostly ethnic roles and his most famous are For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Scarlet Street (1945), and The Magnificent Seven (1960). Sokoloff died in 1962 as the result of a stroke.
Rosenda Monteros played the role of Petra, love interest of one of the seven. Although she has a small biography I have included her because she is basically the only female with speaking lines in the movie. Monteros was born in Mexico in 1935. She is only credited with three films, The Magnificent Seven (1960), Nazarin (1959) and Ninette y un señor de Murcia (1965).
The movie begins in a small Mexican village not a great distance from the US border. A group of about 30 banditos led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his second in command Santos (Valentin de Vargas) ride into town. They steal everything that is not tied down, leaving the poor villagers with little to survive on. One of the villagers can no longer stand it and runs for Calvera with a machete. The man is shot down before he gets anywhere near the group. Calvera vows that he will return as they leave town.
The men gather in the local cantina and debate their choices, from do nothing, to hide food, to god forbid fight back. Three of the bravest villagers, Hilario (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos), Sotero (Rico Alaniz), and Tomas (Pepe Hern) go to see the village elder, or Old Man of the village (Vladimir Sokoloff). He advises them to go to the US to buy guns because they are plentiful there. Boy, he wasn’t kidding about that.
The three men gather all the wealth of the village and head north. When that get to the cowboy filled Texas town, they are stared at and don’t seem welcome. There is a hearse parked in the street, the horse-drawn kind. The undertaker (Whit Bissell) is trying to return money to two traveling salesmen played by Bing Russell and Val Avery). The men had paid for a funeral for a man that had been lying dead in the street for two hours. However, the undertaker cannot bury him in Boot Hill because he is an Indian. When they ask how long this has been going on they are told it has been since the town got civilized. Does that sound familiar?
Anyway, two men volunteer to drive the hearse to the top of the hill. The first, clad in black, with a shaved head, is Chris (Yul Brynner). The other is a drifter named Vin, that has a really laid back style. As they drive the wagon up the hill, they receive shouts, and final someone shoots at them from a window. Vin, wheels around and takes him out with the shotgun. They is a young cowboy following them up them hill, but he waves the two men off to show he is no danger. At the top of the hill, six men are waiting to stop the pair. Chris easily wounds two of the men and everyone decides they will let the burial happen.
Back in town Chris and Vin are great with cheers and drinks. But the two gunmen have no real prospects as the west is becoming tame. That night, the three Mexicans come to Chris’ room. They tell of their plight and ask him to help them buy guns. Chris recommends that they hire men because these days men are cheaper than guns. The three go to the local saloon to look for talent. Vin doesn’t want to take the job as it only pays $20. For six weeks. Vin goes to the craps table and loses his entire stake on an opening role. Chris invites him over for a drink. Vin tells everyone that he is going to be a store clerk and one of the villagers says it is good honest work. He commits to the job. Chris has still not committed to taking the job but this was the first time a client offered him everything they had.
Later in the evening, the young man that followed them up the hill comes in and wants to join the group whom he now idealizes. Chris treats Chico (Horst Buchholz) poorly and humiliates him while he is testing him to work with the group. One of Chris’ friends, Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), a top gunfighter, wants to join the mission because he thinks there is gold or some other great reward. Although Chris tells Hank this is not the case, Hank insists on coming along. Later they recruit Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) who is so poor he now chops firewood to earn his meals. One night, waiting in Chris’ room is Lee (Robert Vaughn). Lee is on the run for a murder or two and has completely lost his nerve, as a fighter. The finally selected member of the group was Britt (James Coburn), a man so good with a knife and a gun he can only challenge himself.
The three villagers and the six hired guns ride south towards the village. Off in the distance, Chico follows like an outcast dog. Some days later, Chico catches fish with his hands, showing he is fast enough to be a gunfighter. He shares the catch with the others and is admitted to the group.
When they arrive in the village, all of the people hide from the gunfighters. In a rage, Chico rings the alarm bell in the church bringing the town running. The next day the professional gunmen begin training the villagers, building walls, and traps. The villagers have a festival and some very nice Yaqui Indian masks are used, spatially placing the village in the northern Chihuahua Desert. A boy runs in and lets the gunmen know that three of Calvera’s men are scouting above the village. Two men go after them and Chico follows along. Because Chico spoiled the ambush, they had to kill all three instead of bringing back a captive.
During this time the gunmen are being well fed by the villagers. They find out that most people have no food and then they start sharing their meals with the children. Three little boys come to Bernardo and say they will bring flowers to his grave if he is killed. They idolize the man and follow him everywhere. Lee is still having problems and suffers from nightmares.
One day, while out scouting, Chico discovers a girl, Petra (Rosenda Monteros). The villages have hidden all of the eligible females away from the gunmen. Chris orders them all brought in so they can be protected. As the day of the attack draws nearer, they try to bring the old man of the village inside of the protected ring, but he refuses and stays in his house.
Finally, Calvera and his men ride into town. They are met by the gunmen and the villagers. Calvera says he should have known when his scouts didn’t return. When Calvera mentions the walls Chris said they were built to keep him in, not let him out. A real mêlée breaks out and about 10 of Calvera’s 30 men are killed. Everyone, including the villagers, performs well except for Lee who hides against a wall.
Everyone in the village is ecstatic and proud of the fighting they have done. They now believe Calvera will leave and plunder an easier target. Since Chico is Mexican he puts on a sombrero and moseys into Calvera’s camp. He finds out that they are starving and must attack the village again.
When he tells the people of the village, they lose faith and want to surrender, even though Chris made it clear from the beginning that once it was begun, it would have to be finished. Chris decides to take the professional gunmen and make a night attack on Calvera’s camp. When they get there, the camp is deserted.
Chris and company head back to the village. When they get there they are surprised by Calvera and his men. Fearful villagers, after locking up Hilario, Sotero, and Tomas have allowed Calvera to enter the town. Calvera disarms the professionals but he doesn’t want to kill them fearing US reprisals. Calvera says he once robbed a bank in Texas and they sent a whole army after him. He learned that only Texans can rob banks in Texas. This is a Pancho Villa illusion.
Chris and the men are escorted out of town and after some distance, they are given their weapons back and sent on their way. All the men, except Hank, decide to return to the village and fight. Even Lee now has his courage restored.
When the gunmen return to the village, another battle breaks out. Vin is shot in the leg. Bernardo is killed protecting the boys and tells them to respect their fathers as he dies. The villagers join the fight. Lee after fighting well is gunned down. Britt is also killed. Calvera gets the drop on Chris, but Hank rides in and saves him before he is killed. He asked what the prize was. Chris tells him a half million in gold before he dies.
Chris has shot Calvera and before he dies he tries to figure out why the gunmen came back, asking “You came back … to a place like this why? A man like you why?”
The next day, the three gunmen help bury the dead. The old man of the village invites them to stay and then bids them farewell when they refuse. He states “You’re like the wind, blowing over the land and … passing on … ¡Vaya con Dios!”
Chico decides to stay with Petra and return to small village life. Chris and Vin ride past the graves and Chris says “The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.” The boys put flowers on the grave of Bernardo.
World-Famous Short Summary – Buddy trip turns out bad.
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Beware the moors