Sunday, 7 December 2008

Movie Review: Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

This second sequel to the original The Magnificent Seven (1960) re-treads the by now tired story of seven loner mercenaries, each with a special skill, getting together to help poor Mexican rebels free their captured leader from a well-defended evil-army fort.

Between 1960 and 1969, the landscape of the Western movie was forever transformed by Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western classics. The new territory led to Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (also 1969). More traditional offerings like Guns of the Magnificent Seven were simply trampled in the stampede towards poetic violence and darkly conflicted heroes.

The leader of the seven is still Chris Adams, originally created by Yul Brynner and played in this sequel by George Kennedy. The significant downgrade in star power pretty much says it all about this sequel, where all the main and supporting talent on both sides of the camera are at best career B-graders. As a rule of thumb, beware any movie where James Whitmore is the second-billed "star". The well-worn music survives from the original, and is one of the better reasons to watch this sequel.

Supporting Chris this time are six mercenaries who bring a lot of luggage along, including both physical and mental frailties. The one-handed quick-draw with a racist attitude of course clashes with the black strong-man in the group. There is the old guy who is good with a knife and who wants to put the violent life behind him and focus on his family, and the fading gun-fighter with a persistent coughing problem. In short, all the characters wander in from other, better movies where they were played by other, better actors.

There are good Mexican villagers who believe in their revolutionary cause, ugly Mexicans who like to drink a lot and pretend that they are rebels, and bad Mexicans who run the army and torture the good Mexican villagers.

The film builds up to the final assault on the army fort, which is a reasonable climax to the film, but is hampered by startling inconsistencies (we just found all this dynamite!) and overly dramatic death scenes that fail to inspire any emotion as the Seven gradually dwindle to a number much less than Seven.

Directed by Paul Wenkos, whose body of work never rose above the mundane, from a colour-by-numbers script by Herman Hoffman, Guns of the Magnificent Seven is a western that mildly entertains but never ventures into challenging territory.

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