A famed rip on the brilliance of Seven Samurai, the pangs of the western genre found the allure of hired heroes helping villages fend off against a mighty threat too much to push back against. Thus, The Magnificent Seven was born. It is more than just a preference of samurai or western that will guide audiences to the former or latter. Sad it may be to see that there are different marks of quality and incompetency within either piece, the general, core concept is there and displayed with relative merit. Director John Sturges is no stranger to the western genre, but the isolationism and behind-the-times community found in Bad Day at Black Rock is very different to the heroes and villains found in the ensemble that put together The Magnificent Seven.
An orchestra pushes the real danger of these antagonists onto the townsfolk they target. They pillage communities, waste their resources and fill an audience with such immediate contempt in how they swagger around the place and mock the hard work of these poor peasants. Calvera (Eli Wallach) is incredible here, spouting golden lines of dialogue, eroding the placidity these townsfolk have. He is the perfect villain for a film such as this. He does not linger on the screen all that often, but his pompous attitude and inability to take the threats of these heroes seriously is an effective, arrogant style that would stake its claim in the genre. He shows the people “generosity” and is angered when they summon a band of unlikely lads to disperse his forces. That, in all its need for action, is sadly where The Magnificent Seven falters.
Not for lack of trying, but the gunfights Sturges looks to show here lack the violence and bloody nature that the finest of the genre overseas would hold. They are used sparingly in the opening act. Here, they are more to demonstrate villainy, rather than to entertain. But when your score and writing do so much, there is such thing as excess. That is what the violence is here. It is not an excess of violence, but an excess of mood-making. It is not worth the valiant effort to have these poor peasants and noble fighters slump over when there is no impact behind the punch. Elmer Bernstein does such a fine, refined job that The Magnificent Seven feels like a tremendous Hollywood effort. That may explain the shying away, where the grit and scum is not found in full effect. It is still an engaging experience, with mouthy dialogue that sets the rebellious righteous on a path of salvation. Steve McQueen and Robert Vaughn in particular are magnificent. They have always established their command of the screen, and The Magnificent Seven is no different.
While it has the Hollywood sheen, that works in favour and also against the efforts Sturges and company put into The Magnificent Seven. It is not as successful as the film it is inspired by, but perhaps that is due to the honour and respectability of the characters in Seven Samurai. While The Magnificent Seven is an engaging (and crucially, fun) piece of film, it loses a lot of the narrative depth and richness found within Akira Kurosawa’s legendary classic. Much of the pacing that three-hour epic has depends on a relationship between characters and a coming together of different backgrounds. Here, there is no time, nor is there any real need for it, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in gun-toting greatness.