Eight years ago (this film diary denotes literal perspective and history by its own existence), I saw The Magnificent Seven (1960) for the first time in my life. I was utterly taken with it, classic that it is, and felt utter reinforced in the realization that a lot of the “greats” of cinema are greats of cinema for a reason. It was a lot of goddamn fun.
When my mother passed away five years ago, in going through her belongings, I found a DVD copy of this film that I had so enjoyed and took it home to my small DVD library. But I hadn’t watched it again in that time, despite having it on my shelf. But then when the kids and I were due to watch Empire of the Sun (1987) and the DVD came cracked from Netflix, I was pushed to look to my small collection of movies on disc that I could watch with the kids. Considering how many animation collections I have, there were only 3 movies I deemed possibilities. And this film became, somewhat by accident, their introduction to the American Western.
I have to say, in some extremely haphazard way, my programming for Felix and Clara is possibly my projection of my fantasy of curating my own art house cinema, with some aspect of education and breadth.
The Magnificent Seven is indeed magnificent, but it’s power on the big screen was much more large and potent for me. And I would imagine it so for anyone. This is the thing about the big screen, right? To be overpowered by the sight and sound, by the narrative and imagery. And for a film like this, it’s easy to recall how rapt I was in seeing it thus. It’s still terrific on my not-so-large screen television. And it still has power, as films do, even diminished in their projection and experience. But it struck me how overwhelming and pleasurable it is to have Yul Brynner looming above you.
In the time since I last saw The Magnificent Seven, I also finally saw the Seven Samurai (1954), the magnificent Akira Kurasawa film that “inspired” it. I also managed to see director John Sturges’ other populist classic, The Great Escape (1964), which is also charming (and perhaps equally so on the big screen). I have also, in those eight years hence, seen any number of Samurai films and Westerns and come to have somewhat a better context for appreciating the film.
For me, this viewing was nowhere as rapt, but was still struck by the pure charm of Brynner and Steven McQueen, by the great supporting roles of Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson. I was also struck again by the so frequent references and asides to it and its predecessor, such as Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998). And the amazing score by Elmer Bernstein, which I would definitely place among the most iconic in cinema.
The kids really liked it in the end too. Felix mentioned to me before it ended that “the next movie that he was going to make” would be a “cowboy movie”. Given that this was his first, I’m very eager to initiate him further into the genre. Clara also said she liked it a lot, which surprised me a bit, since she was more wriggly during the early parts of the film. But towards the end she settled and got into the final shoot-out.
The Western is a great genre. The Magnificent Seven is a great Western.