Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Scenes Made of Awesome - The Magnificent Seven
New York City is a great city to be in if you're a film lover, especially in the summer with all the outdoor venues that hold free movie screenings. Bryant Park has shown some pretty great stuff over the last several weeks, and last night was another great - The Magnificent Seven. I have an abnormal fondness for westerns, abnormal in the sense that I'm a little too young to have grown up in the golden age of westerns and don't come from an area of the country that's particularly steeped in cowboy culture. But I think my love affair with westerns began when I was a freshman in high school and our marching band did an "American West" show, using music from, among other things, the classic The Magnificent Seven and the new classic (well, it was fairly new when I was a freshman in 1989) Silverado. And I have long thought that The Magnificent Seven had the greatest film score ever written for a western. Elmer Bernstein, you are the Man.
And The Magnificent Seven is one of the great westerns. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you start with The Seven Samurai as your source material. But the Old West was an uncanny fit for the story, and kudos goes to John Sturges for recognizing the potential of the resetting.
This film does a lot of things exceptionally well, but one thing in particular that stands out is the introduction of the two main stars of the film, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, who play the two members of the Seven that we're going to be the most closely concerned with. This could not be a more perfect setup for these characters. They see an injustice (a funeral cannot take place because the body once belonged to an Indian, and anyone who tries to bury him is going to meet the business end of a gun), and they man up and make it right, which sets up their stake in the conflict with Calvera on behalf of the village that hires them.
This is a great, great scene, and though the whole taking-the-body-to-Boot-Hill is awesomesauce, I think my favorite part is the first section with Whit Bissell, who plays the undertaker. Unwilling to take the body - and his expensive hearse - into potential gunfire, he explains that his driver quit. When it's suggested that the driver is prejudiced, he replies "Well, when it comes to a chance of getting his head blown off, he's downright bigoted." Best line in the whole dang film.