The Magnificent Seven didn’t just reinvent the western for the 20th century — by putting genre actors like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson together on screen, it basically invented a high-powered action ensemble formula we still see today. Whether it’s The Dirty Dozen (1967), Young Guns (1988), The Expendables (2010), or the current massive franchises in the Fast & Furious universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve grown accustomed to seeing our screens packed with handfuls of leading actors. This 1960 western brought together one of the greatest casts that we’ve ever seen and it set the template for dozens of action blockbusters that followed.
Based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows a disparate group of gunfighters who come together to save a small Mexican village from a roving gang of bandits. It’s the ultimate western, and each of the actors who worked on this film turned in the performance of a lifetime.
In 1959-60 there was no one who was as good at playing a tough as nails cowboy as Yul Brynner. It’s hard to watch Brynner as Chris Adams and not want to join up with his posse. Adams is the classic seen-it-all hero who sees his position in life as nothing more than knowing how to shoot a gun. Famously, Brynner hated working with Steve McQueen, his younger co-star on the
Brynner felt that McQueen was constantly trying to show him up in scenes by playing with his hat and fiddling with his gun. Brynner was reportedly so insecure about McQueen’s star power that he had an assistant count the lines of dialogue that each actor had so he could be sure that he had a bigger part.
Vin Tanner is the perfect role for Steve McQueen. He cracks wise any chance he can get, and he’s not tethered to anything. Even though he could just as easily be happy in a saloon or alone on the prairie, he helps defend the small Mexican village because he’s got a huge heart – he just doesn’t want anyone to know it.
McQueen wasn’t yet the “King of Cool,” but he was on his way by the time he was cast in The Magnificent Seven. After nearly 100 episodes on Wanted: Dead or Alive he knew a thing or two about westerns, and showed up his co-stars when it came to shooting a six gun on set. He was reportedly able to fire off two rounds in quick succession, and he was such a good hand with a gun that he taught Yul Brynner how to flick his weapon into his holster.
When McQueen was asked about his testy relationship with Brynner on the set, he simply said, “When you work in a scene with Yul, you’re supposed to stand perfectly still. I don’t work that way.”
Charles Bronson is one of the greatest tough guys in film history, but he really shines in an ensemble piece like The Magnificent Seven. As Bernardo O’Reilly, a rough neck who needs some quick cash, Bronson takes the viewer on a journey, and it’s amazing to watch him finally come around to saving this village.
Bronson was never one to talk too much about his roles, but the fascinating thing about his work in The Magnificent Seven is that he was 40 years old when it was released. He’d been acting for about a decade prior, but this was the movie that made people notice him. It’s never too late to chase your dreams.
As Britt, the knife expert of the crew, James Coburn is incredibly cool, which is a hard thing to pull off when you’re in a movie with Steve McQueen. To hear Coburn tell it, he was connected to the role in an almost spiritual sense, which is why he’s so awesome in the film even though he only has 11 lines of dialogue.
While speaking about the film in 2001, Coburn says that he loved Seven Samurai and when he found out that Robert Vaughn was working on the American remake he knew that he had to be a part of it. As luck would have it, the only character that hadn’t been cast was Britt, the knife expert. Coburn says that when he saw Seven Samurai, he felt connected to the swordsman. It’s almost as if he was destined to play the role. Coburn explained:
I went over to see [director] John Sturges, and John said, ‘Yeah, there’s one of the seven that hasn’t been cast yet.’ I say, ‘Is that the guy who’s the great swordsman in Kurosawa’s film?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s right.’ I said, ‘That’s the one I wanna play, John.’ He says, ‘I’ll let you know by 3 o’clock.’ So at 2:30 I get a call from him: ‘Come on over and pick up your knives.’
proc. by Movies