Thursday, September 10, 2009

Three Not So Magnificent "Seven" Sequels

Recently, TCM ran a Magnificent Seven film festival beginning with John Sturges’ classic 1960 Western and was followed by the three sequels released between 1966 and 1972. Let me say upfront that The Magnificent Seven is one of my favorite Westerns…and also one of the finest adaptations of a foreign-language film. The brilliant premise—a poor Mexican village hires seven gunfighters to protect it from a marauding outlaw—was lifted intact from Akira Kurosawa’s stunning (though lengthy) The Seven Samurai. But Sturges and company make The Magnificent Seven memorable on its own merits, with a cast peppered with upcoming stars, a splendid villain played by Eli Wallach, and one of the most instantly-recognizable music scores in cinema history.

How could it all go so wrong in the three sequels? Return of the Seven, penned by the prolific Larry Cohen (e.g., It’s Alive), pretty much rehashes the first film. At least, Yul Brynner lends it some class by reprising his role as Chris Adams, the leader of the Seven. But part of the problem with doing a sequel is that four of the Seven died in the first picture, those played Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and Brad Dexter (three of these four evolving into big-time film or TV stars). And, instead of Steve McQueen and Horst Buchholz as the remaining two Seven members, we get Robert Fuller (likable, but with little to do) as Vin and Julian Mateos (who?) as Chico. The plot has Chico taken captive by a powerful rancher who is “borrowing” villagers to a build a church to honor his dead sons. That’s kinda interesting, but it never gels. Instead, Chris and Vin recruit some new gunfighters (getting two from a local jail), rescue Chico, and engage into a big shootout. Even the reliable Warren Oates can’t do anything with a watered-down variation of Bronson’s character.

Despite George Kennedy replacing Yul Brynner as Chris, Guns of the Magnificent Seven is a marginal upgrade. Kennedy doesn’t wear Brynner’s all-black outfit (which seems a might hot in the desert anyway), but he does smoke cigars and keep his cohorts in line. His mission is to rescue a revolutionary leader being held prisoner in a well-guarded fortress. Beyond Chris, there’s no attempt to tie in characters from the previous films, so it’s pretty much an all-new Seven circa B-list actors: Monte Markham, a pleasant TV vet is almost too low-key in the McQueen-like role; the always reliable James Whitman is pretty good as a knife-throwing elderly gent (Coburn also favored knives in the original); and Joe Don Baker is over-the-top in a role that makes Vaughn’s intense gunslinger look laid back.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! is pretty much a sequel in name only and not nearly as exciting as the exclamation point would lead you to believe. Lee Van Cleef plays Chris, but you’d never know it was the same character. He’s a marshal now, married to Mariette Hartley, and smokes a pipe instead of a cigar (you know, like the pipe Lee smoked in his other Westerns). The plot begins as a revenge tale, then winds up with Chris deciding to protect a village of women from a nasty bandito. Since he needs some help, he goes to a nearby prison and picks up five convicts to go along with the author-turned-gunfighter who’s writing his biography! It’s a sloppy affair, as evidenced by the lightning speed with which Chris takes up with Stefanie Powers’ young widow after the violent death of his wife.

In summary, the Seven probably should have stayed home after the first film. That said, I will admit that the sequels all excelled in one area: Each of them featured a great musical score. The original one composed by Elmer Bernstein.


  1. I totally agree with you Rick. I was surprised that the powers that be at TCM elected to show the decidedly inferior sequels. I'm a big fan of Robert Fuller and Monte Markham but they certainly did not create characters equal to any of the original seven and only succeeded in making me ask, Why?

  2. Rick I can say two good things about Return. First UA was smart to recycled the first films score fot this film. Second. Would You Belive(I feel Like Don Adams) that UA did not release a soundtrack LP of the first film. What where they thinking?But UA got smart(sorry)and did issue a soundtrack LP. I've had mine for 30 plus years at it still sounds amazing. If you want the complete score on CA the James Sedares with the Phoenix Symphony on Koch uis the way to go Elmer called it "the Definitive Interpretation"youu can find it at www,Arkive Music,com

  3. Paul2, that's fascinating to learn that the original soundtrack was never released...for one of the most famous of all scores! As for Robert Fuller, Saz, my sister was a fan of we watched "Laramie" and "Wagon Train." I know he was in "Emergency," too, but that was years later and I didn't care for it.

  4. Most people forget that THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a remake of Kurosawa's film, and I think that shows how superb a remake it truly is. I like that TCM showed the sequels. Looking at sequels retrospectively, particularly to a classic movie, is always so fun, even if the sequel(s) was a clunker. It's not necessarily fun to watch the films crash, but it's interesting to see how a studio would make a sequel to a movie that probably doesn't need one.

  5. Emergency's stock footage was shot in my old home town of Carson CA and the hospital was the Harbor General, Now Harbor UCLA General, and it is the home of the first paramedic program in the USA.Thye 'Fire Station" is a real on on Carson Blvd next to The 450 freeway with you can see in some back round shots.