August 16, 2010

Movie Monday: The Magnificent Seven

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Today we are going to explore a famous cowboy legend while we continue our character study. The perfect movie for this is

The Magnificent Seven
Now, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't make the obligatory mention that director John Sturges was inspired to make this movie after watching Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," a story set in the Japanese countryside about a poor village which hires seven samurai warriors to come defend them against bandits. However, it's important to note that Kurosawa was himself inspired to make that movie from watching American Westerns! So, it is fair to say that "The Magnificent Seven" is really the purest form of that vision.

The "hired gun" is a very popular cowboy legend. In effect, the cowboy is to America what the mythic "knight in shining armor" is to Europe. The story of the movie is simple: a small border village is terrorized by a Mexican bandito - Calverra. The townspeople are only poor farmers, unable to defend themselves and their crops. So, the town agrees to hire gunmen to come defend them and make Calverra find a new town to steal from.

A few men act as emissaries and travel to hire the gunmen. Coming to a nearby town, they stumble upon an incredible scene: a man died in the middle of the street, presumably from natural causes. For two hours, he laid there. No one bothered to bury him or even move him out of the way of the horses. Finally, a visiting traveling salesman pays the undertaker to take him and bury him in the local poorman's cemetery. However, a group inn the town won't let them. Why? The man who died was an Indian, and the cemetery only has white people in it. Aghast, the salesman reminds the undertaker he's already been paid, and asks him to drive the body to the cemetery and bury him anyway. The undertaker says he can't, because his driver quit. The salesman says, "Oh, is he prejudiced, too?" The undertaker stiffens and says, "Mister, when it comes to getting his head blown off, he's downright bigoted!"

Suddenly you hear a voice say, "Oh hell, if that's all that's holding it up, I'll drive the rig." Over walks Chris, played by Yul Brenner. He is the iconic man in black. As he climbs up on the hearse, Vin - played by Steve McQueen - grabs a shotgun and jumps on the hearse as well. (This is where we get the term "riding shotgun" in a car. It refers to the days of the stage coach, where one man drove and the other rode next to him with a shotgun to defend the stage.)

They don't say much, but pull out and head down the main street to the cemetery. At first, some people call out threats. Then a few try to take a shot at them, but Vin makes quick work of them with his shotgun. Finally, they make it to the cemetery and, after a small showdown with some locals, finally get the man buried.

The poor farmers see this scene and get excited. After all, we have now learned two very important things about our cowboys: 1 - they don't mind trouble, and 2 - they are willing to do it for no personal gain. These are the men they have been looking for!

They ask Chris to assemble a team to protect them. He tells them, "Men in this line of work are not all alike." Each of the encounters with the remainder of the team proves that point. There are too many to go into here, but they are all played by fabulous actors such as Charles Bronson, Charles Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Horst Buchholz.

They are a diverse group of characters - some men who just need money that badly, some who are bored and out of work, one a young man so desperate not to end up a farmer he tries to be a gunslinger. Together they work, not only to protect the town, but also to train the people to protect themselves. After all, they can't stay there forever.

This is the epitome of the hired gun movie. In fact, if you've ever seen the spoof "The Three Amigos," this is what it was based off of.

As I say, the story is simple, but the movie truly is magnificent. Pages could be filled on the characters, they are each so unique and robust. The soundtrack is the iconic example of western movie music. And don't let those publicity photos fool you. The movie is in beautiful Technicolor. There's no way for me to describe only with words the masterpiece that this movie is. You simply have to see it for yourself.

3 comments:

  1. hmmmm sounds intresting!!!!

    is it sad to say that throughout this movie monday i kept thinking about a bugs life, and how the ant went and got the circus bugs to bring back to the colony to protect the ants from the grasshoppers????...bc if it is sad to say that...then NO WAY was
    I thinking that...lol!

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  2. Oooh. I may have to see this! I haven't seen a good western in a while. =) And I have most definitely seen The Three Amigos. I think my brother and I watched that movie every other day for months when we were kids. =)

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  3. I haven't seen this movie in a long time but I remember loving it!

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