Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

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 An all-star cast led by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn head south of the border to confront Mexican bandit Eli Wallach in United Artists’ The Magnificent Seven. Add Elmer Bernstein’s stirring music score and John Sturges’ slam-bang direction and it all spells Classic Western.

 The Magnificent Seven Based on The Seven Samurai

The Magnificent Seven is based on the 1954 Japanese film Shichinin no samurai – or The Seven Samurai – directed by the great Akira Kurosawa. Set in 16th century Japan, the picture tells the story of seven samurai warriors who agree to protect an embattled village from marauding bandits.

 A great admirer of The Seven Samurai, director John Sturges made the decision to do a remake of the movie, but with one major difference: his version would be an American western. Penning the screenplay was William Roberts, with uncredited assistance from Walter Bernstein and Walter Newman.

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen Head Cast

Yul Brynner (Chris Adams) and Steve McQueen (Vin) head the cast. Other players include Charles Bronson (Bernardo O’Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee), James Coburn (Britt), Brad Dexter (Harry Luck), Horst Buchholz (Chico) and Eli Wallach (Calvera).

 Others considered for roles in The Magnificent Seven included George Peppard and Gene Wilder (Vin) and John Ireland and Sterling Hayden (Britt).

Of the principals, Steve McQueen’s services were the most difficult to acquire as he was still under contract to Four Star Productions, starring as bounty hunter Josh Randall in CBS-TV’s Wanted – Dead or Alive. Four Star’s Tom McDermott was squarely against letting Steve McQueen appear in the picture, so when persuasion and threats didn’t work, McQueen’s agent, Hilly Elkins, instructed his client to “have an accident.” The wild McQueen did just that, driving his car into the side of a Boston bank and returning to Los Angeles in a neck brace. McDermott finally relented, and McQueen signed on as Vin for $65,000. 

 The Magnificent Seven Filmed in Mexico

The Magnificent Seven was filmed on location in Cuernavaca, Mexico, from March to April 1960. Yul Brynner was actually married on the set – to wife number two, Doris Kleiner – with props from the fiesta scene used in the subsequent reception.

A rivalry developed on the set between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, with the latter – nicknamed “Tricky Dick” because of his constant machinations – engaging in a covert campaign of scene stealing. After Brynner had built up a small mound of dirt in order to make himself look taller, the crafty McQueen gradually began kicking it away while speaking his lines, making Brynner look smaller and smaller.

Steve McQueen: We Deal in Lead, Friend

Steve McQueen’s classic line – “We deal in lead, friend” – aptly sums up the plot in The Magnificent Seven. When Mexican villagers tire of the constant raids conducted by Calvera and his bandits, they enlist the help of Chris Adams, an American gun for hire.

Chris methodically recruits six other gunslinging mercenaries. The last to be accepted is the youngest member, Chico, who was initially turned down after failing a test to measure his nerve and quick-draw skills.

The Magnificent Seven is packed with plenty of action and gunplay, with the body count eventually numbering 55 souls. One of the more memorable scenes is the gem introducing Britt, who is challenged to a fast-draw contest by a belligerent cowboy who pits his six-shooter against Britt’s knife. The man loses, with the lightning-quick Britt planting his blade in the surprised cowboy’s chest.

Charles Bronson, paid a modest $50,000 for his services, also has a good scene. Playing the half-Mexican, half-Irish Bernardo O’Reilly, Bronson lectures a young Mexican boy on the true nature of courage.

The Magnificent Seven produced three big-screen sequels: Return of the Seven (1966), Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969) and The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972).

The Magnificent Seven Release, Reviews

  •  The Magnificent Seven hit movie theaters on October 23, 1960.
  • “The Magnificent Seven is a rip-roaring, rootin’ tootin’ Western with lots of bite and tang and old-fashioned abandon…” crowed Variety (10/5/60).
  • “A considerable amount of money was spent on this Western – to no purpose,” countered Films in Review (11/60).
  • “A pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original…Elmer Bernstein’s music supplies the loudest prairie blast we’ve heard since Giant…” reported Howard Thompson of The New York Times (11/24/60).

The Magnificent Seven Oscar Nomination, Trivia, Movie Memorabilia, DVD

  •  The Magnificent Seven earned one Oscar nomination: Elmer Bernstein for Best Music, Scoring of a Drama or Comedy Picture. And although he didn’t win, Bernstein’s memorable score later became immortalized in the classic Marlboro television commercials.
  • Robert Vaughn, born November 22, 1932, is the sole survivor of the titled seven. Yul Brynner (1915-1985), Steve McQueen (1930-1980), Charles Bronson (1921-2003), James Coburn (1928-2002), Brad Dexter (1917-2002) and Horst Buchholz (1933-2003) have all departed for the high country.
  • Auction results for The Magnificent Seven movie memorabilia courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries: one sheet poster ($418.25), insert poster ($203.15), three sheet poster ($286.80), British quad poster ($358.50), Spanish one sheet poster ($83.65), complete set of eight lobby cards ($537.75).
  • On DVD: The Magnificent Seven Special Edition (MGM/UA, 2001).
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