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The One-Line Summary: When a small Mexican village becomes the target of a ruthless bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach), who regularly steals their food and supplies, the town’s leaders head north into American and catch the sympathy of Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), a veteran gunslinger who convinces them that hiring men is cheaper than buying guns and ammunition, eventually agreeing to help the beleaguered villagers, recruiting six others to go to Mexico and defend the town.
The Two-Line Blurb: Directed by John Sturges and a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), this classic Western has become a staple of the genre and helped to define a host of careers for its legendary cast, including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, all of whom would go on to greater fame with the tough guy reputations earned from this film (itself getting a remake in 2016). While its stature as an American cinematic icon is certainly secure, the movie is a bit slow and loses a lot of his generated steam in the second half, though there are some terrific performances and moments that transcend criticism and are firmly part of Hollywood lore.
The Three-Line Set-up: This moment is all about knowing the odds as Calvera learns who and what he’s up against and starts when Adams takes up the cause and begins spreading the news, first getting Vin Tanner (McQueen), a gambler who’s lost it all, a couple of aimless and inexperienced fighters who think Adams is after treasure (Horst Buchholz, Brad Dexter), a gunslinger with a streak of bad luck (Bronson), a cowboy who just wants to fight (Coburn), and a criminal on the run from the law (Vaughn). The plan is that when Calvera shows up, he will see professional gunmen and turn tail, but to be sure, the men go to the town and help teach the locals how to defend their village, building a wall with traps and training them to shoot. The men bond with each other and the townspeople, earning their respect and forging an alliance that makes the effort for all of them worth it, despite the incredible odds they face against the brutal bandits.
The Four-Line Moment: Calvera is surprised by the appearance of the gunslingers who emerge from their positions one-by-one to show a slow but united front against the forty horsemen who seem undeterred by the seemingly trivial show of rebellion. Calvera comments on the changes in the town, but is stubborn and unconvinced that seven men have even the remotest chance fighting his gang. The classic standoff is a masterpiece of direction and pacing, and is the film’s highlight as the gunfighters make their presence known, chipping away at Calvera’s confidence, who slowly suspects these men might be more than he bargained for. McQueen and Brynner come off best as the heroes, establishing the postures and charisma many leading men in future films would adopt.
The Five-Word Review: Solid drama still holds up.
William Roberts (screenplay)