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The Magnificent Seven

Year: 1960
Production Co: The Mirisch Company
Director: John Sturges
Writer: William Roberts
Cast: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Horst Buchholz

It's no real surprise George Lucas was so inspired by the motifs of the Western genre when he made Star Wars. There were few other kinds of films that depicted such cut and dried good versus evil themes, all of it against iconic backdrops and a visual language (everything from the colour palette to the shot blocking) that was so familiar to film fans.

So it makes perfect sense that the story by Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni would be so well matched to a Western – the script for their 1954 classic The Seven Samurai is namechecked right in the credits.

A poor Mexican farming village is under siege by local ruffian Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang of thugs. They ride into town, shoot the place up, steal supplies and crops and terrorise everyone. The villagers have had enough, going to a nearby town over the American border to try and buy guns. Instead they meet veteran gunfighter Chris (Yul Brynner, in one of the two roles that cemented his legend along with The King and I), who tells them they should hire people who know how to fight rather than try and fight Calvera themselves.

If you've seen The Seven Samuari, the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven or Roger Corman sci-fi shlock Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) you know exactly where it's going. The first half of the story is taken up with the machinations of Chris and first recruit Vin (Steve McQueen) meeting and signing up the rest of the crew (including Robert Vaughan, who'd reprise his exact role in Battle 20 years later), and the fight is on.

During a few tussles with Calvera's boys and some scenes of training and preparations for the climactic battle, the script weaves enough character intrigue throughout the endgame to keep it from being just a series of action scenes very effectively. If you broke it all down shot by shot or even beat by beat without the emotional impact of the images on screen you'd see how it's an almost perfectly constructed piece of work (albeit with the debt owed to Samurai).

The other thing about The Magnificent Seven is that it's a reverse iceberg – almost all of it above the surface and plain to see. There are a few nods to subtext about the price being a killer extracts and the life of an eternal drifter, but it's a straightforward movie about tooling up for an action scene and then unleashing it.

If you move from this to the remake with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, you'll see that writers Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk and director Antoine Fuqua understood the roller coaster ride machinations of the story perfectly – the final battle is almost devoid of any charactersation and takes up a full forty minutes.

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