In October 1960, John Sturges‘ star-studded 128-minute western The Magnificent Seven hit U.S. theaters, eventually becoming one of the iconic films of the genre. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The Magnificent Seven has the stars and the production values to open big, and probably will. But it is not a success, as a story or as entertainment. About two-thirds of the film is good, tough, unromantic period western. About one-third is sentimental nonsense and it bushwhacks the remainder. It is as if someone decided the picture wasn’t commercial enough. In adding so-called commercial values, a good picture has been sabotaged.
Robert Sturges produced and directed the Mirisch production for United Artists. The William Roberts screenplay is adapted to the screen from the Japanese film of some years ago, Seven Samurai. It was associate producer Lou Morheim’s idea that this Japanese film would make a good western. It was a good idea but it has not worked out.
The story now has a bedraggled Mexican village terrorized by a petty bandit chief, Eli Wallach. To protect themselves from his periodic plunderings, the villagers, headed by Rico Alaniz, hire a group of gunmen — Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and James Coburn. For a fee, these soulless men agree to protect the town and run off Wallach and his band. The point of the screenplay is that by turning idealist for money, the goodness of their position rubs off on the men. By the time they are through, they have become better.
In the first place, western badmen are not samurai, and to turn them into the equivalent of knights in armor, a good deal more character and exposition is necessary than is given. These men, in the current version, are really [bums], and if this fact had been faced and maintained it would have made a diverting and different picture. There is no romance in the film, except for a completely unbelievable contrivance at the very end, and this straightforward accent on action keeps the film moving when it does not bog down in specious philosophy and repentance.
Brynner is satisfactory in the leading role, although he tends to stick to one expression, perhaps playing it laconic. Wallach is always a delightful actor to watch. McQueen, if he can get sprung from TV, where he is learning nothing and only getting older, is going to be a great big star. In his last two films he has played secondary leads and in each he has held his own against the top star, to put it politely.
Buchholz, the young German actor, makes his U.S. film bow as a Mexican Indian, a curious bit of casting, but one that comes off all right. Bronson almost brings off the tenderness aspects of the film, and the picture could have taken a lot more out of him. Vaughn is all but wasted in a role that obviously has been left on the cutting-room floor. Others prominent and helpful include Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Vladimir Sokoloff, Rico Alaniz and Rosenda Monteros.
Sturges as a director is unexcelled at handling movement. With his cameraman, Charles Lang, he has made superb use of traveling shots, swirling action that provide the film’s highlights. The Eastman Color is excellent, and the Panavision process good, although the process is actually better than it gets shown here. Elmer Bernstein’s music is truly memorable; the theme will stick. Ferris Webster’s editing is fine, and a particular asset on the action work. — James Powers, originally published Oct. 5, 1960.