Friday, June 04, 2004

On Wednesday night I watched The Magnificent Seven. Among other things I got from the movie, I now understand why Steve McQueen was such an action idol in the '60s and '70s -- he is the embodiment of cool. The closest modern actor I can think of who has or had the same onscreen persona would be Harrison Ford back in the '80s, in his Han Solo-Indiana Jones years. And even he played up the humor more than McQueen did in his roles. McQueen was more of a deadpan joker. It's fun to see all these great actors of that generation - Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn - in a film where none of them, save Brynner, had the fame and acclaim they would later achieve.

While Kurosawa's epic The Seven Samurai doesn't feel like it's over three hours even though it is, I liked the fact that The Magnificent Seven tells its story in a little over two, without sacrificing much to do so. It's missing some of the emotion of Samurai, though. For example, aside from the three boys who are upset at the death of Charles Bronson's character, I didn't get the sense that anyone else in the town would mourn the gunfighters the way the villagers in Samurai were going to mourn the fallen swordsmen. But overall the story translates well to the format of the western.

For me the best part of the movie was the music. Elmer Bernstein's score is one of the most famous in all of cinema, and even though I've heard it many times before, there's nothing like hearing that sweeping string melody while watching the hired guns ride across the open plains. It makes me want to head out on the range with my horse. Unfortunately, my horse is a hybrid bicycle, and the soundtrack doesn't fit well with the image of a guy in tight shorts and a colorful jersey pedaling around New York.

The DVD includes a 45-minute documentary in which the producers and surviving stars (as of 2001, when it was made -- at this point only Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach are still alive) discuss the genesis and making of the movie. Bernstein's score gets a few minutes all by itself at the end, for those who enjoy that aspect of movies as much as I do.

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