People often asked what are my favourite movies and my normal answer is that I watch so many that I could not really say. But I going to let you into a secret, I do have three films that I saw at the cinema on their initial release and since have seen them many more times than I care to remember!
I'm sure your familiar with the story that was specifically adapted from Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 masterpiece (and I don’t use that term lightly) Seven Samurai with Sturges adapting it to fit into the western genre with the Ronin, master less Samurai, replaced with gunfighters.
We are south of the border in Mexico, in a small village where its farmers are being harassed by the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallace) and his men who invade the village and steal some of the crops that’s have been stored following their harvest, threatening to return and take the rest. Some of the more adventurous villagers want to buy some guns and fight the bandits next time they pay them a visit. To this purpose they travel across the border into America and set about buying the weaponry they require. Witnessing the successful conclusion to the burial of the Indian they approach Chris and ask him to buy the guns for them. Although dressed in black and an obvious gun fighter he seems an honest man and when he offers them the advice that it would be cheaper to buy men with guns, rather than just guns they readily except his help in hiring the gun fighters they require to carry out the task that the farmers are not really competent to carry out themselves. Thus begins the recruitment of men to join Chris in this crusade back across the Mexican border.
Obviously the handsome drifter Vin, who has since riding shotgun on the hearse lost what money he had on the gaming table in a Saloon Bar, joins Chris in his recruitment drive. The next to join is Britt (James Coburn) a man with little to say who is as good with a knife as he is with a gun, a man whose not interested in money (the farmers are only offering $20 for a six week contract!) only the challenge. Next up is Harry Luck (Brad Dexter) a very old friend of Chris who believes there’s more to it than it than just $20! Next they find Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson) chopping wood for food, he is a veteran gunfighter who has taken part in the range wars for money but has fallen on hard times. After killing the Johnson Brothers in a gunfight the smartly dressed Lee (Robert Vaughn) is on the run and looking for somewhere to hide, what would be better than to hide out in the middle of a small war? What Chris doesn’t know is that this slick combatant is having a crisis of confidence! The final and seventh member of the group is the young, good looking, ex dirt farmer Chico (German actor Horst Buchholz) who is trying desperately to prove himself. This miscellaneous collection of human kind then set out across the border to our small village in Mexico scare away the Bandidos and the fun really starts.
Filmed in Cuernavaca and EStudios Churbuso Mexico this was alleged to be the last great western before Leone reinvented the genre (see A Fistful of Dollars and the Spaghetti Western). John Sturges had directed westerns prior to this film including Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1957 where Burt Lancaster teams up with Kirk Douglas to gun down some bad men. Although nearly all the main cast in The Magnificent Seven are now household names, at the time only Brynner was well known having recently won an Academy Award for The King and I (1956) and was also starring opposite Charlton Heston in the biblical epic The Ten Commandments the same year. But other than perhaps Brad Dexter all the rest went on to enjoy very successful careers in the movie industry. McQueen, Coburn and Bronson would team up with the director again in 1963’s The Great Escape, which made Steve McQueen a superstar.