Man, they could keep on making these Magnificent Seven movies forever. I don’t blame ’em because they got somebody as cool as Yul Brynner as Chris Adams, they just have to find different actors to surr–
Oh shit, he’s not in this one. He was in four movies that year, including an uncredited bit part in drag in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, but he decided he was not the part 3 type. Taking over as Chris Adams is George Kennedy, who had won an Oscar for COOL HAND LUKE two years earlier (Brynner had won his four years before the first MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).
I have to admit I had low expectations for Kennedy. He’s a good character actor, but almost always as a utility player, as some sheriff or captain or sleazy bad guy, not the badass hero. Which, I should’ve known, would make this special. As soon as he shows up in the movie, barrel chested, cocky, even kind of handsome, leaning casually as a fence as he interrupts the hanging of a horse thief. He completely changed my whole image of him.
The condemned is Keno (Monte Markham, HOUR OF THE GUN, JAKE SPEED, WE ARE STILL HERE), and Chris, with his intolerance for bullshit, shames them for not giving him a fair trial. He proposes a(n also rigged) test to “prove” who’s telling the truth about owning the horse, saving Keno’s life even though he knows he really did it. This is a really good equivalent to the character’s hearse-driving introduction in part 1, another risky endeavor that he takes on passionlessly just because he happens to be standing in a crowd when some dipshits are doing something that rubs him the wrong way.
So Chris and Keno are together when O’Leary (Reni Santoni, THE PACKAGE) finds them and hires them for a dangerous mission of busting out an imprisoned revolutionary (Fernando Rey playing a different character than in RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN). They’re gonna need seven guys again, so they go pick up demolitions expert Cassie (Bernie Casey in his first movie), alcoholic one-armed racist circus sharpshooter Slater (Joe Don Baker in his second movie), and depressed, unconfident knife thrower P.J. (James Whitmore in his followup to THE SPLIT).
This is a particularly good version of the now-traditional recruiting montage, since they’re all introduced in very different settings. The first shot of Cassie is his hand pushing down a plunger causing a huge explosion at a mine. He warned them it was too much explosives but they didn’t listen to him, and the mine collapses, so he has to crawl in and rescue miners that no one else will. He puts a collapsed plank on his back and lifts it like Samson so they can get out from under it. Casey had been in the NFL for 9 seasons and was following in the footsteps of Jim Brown by becoming a movie star;
Slater is a good one too, because they go into a circus to find him, and he’s performing as Buffalo Bill’s brother, Buffalo Ben. This guy is messed up, too. “I’m a freak, Keno,” he says. “Half man half gun.” When he meets Cassie he makes a racist joke, almost gets his ass kicked. Once they break it up they go back to planning like nothing happened, but the tension obviously remains. And then it blows up when Slater wakes up in the night, points guns at Cassie in his sleep, fires them into the air, rambling like a nut.
After all this, of course, it’s very touching when they start being nice to each other, like when Slater says his wife “found a whole man,” and Cassie says supportively, “Well I guess that makes her about half a woman.” For his part, when (SPOILER) Cassie gets shot, Slater is so distraught it spurs him into a suicidal shooting frenzy.
Yeah, they better learn to get along. The villain Diego (Michael Ansara, voice on the Rambo cartoon) is not really to be trifled with. There’s a scene where he has nine prisoners buried up to their necks in the dirt. Basically, just rows of living heads on the ground. It made me nervous just looking at it, seeing several actors on real horses standing near them, just waiting for something to go wrong. And then they purposely ride the horses between them, kicking up dust in their faces as a threat.
There’s another memorable sleazo character in it, Lobero (Frank Silvera, UP TIGHT!), the bandit chief who’s always belittling O’Leary’s plans and getting in his way. He stops the bandits form helping so they have to let loose the prisoners and teach them to be an army.
O’Leary wants to learn from Chris so he can be part of the fight, kind of a reference to the youngest samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI. He’s the young guy but it would be hard to argue he’s the Horst Buchholz of the cast or the James Dean of anywhere. He was just a stage actor from New York who later played a bunch of cops, like in DIRTY HARRY and COBRA. But the cast does have that MAGNIFICENT SEVEN trademark of having some cool actors who weren’t big names yet at the time. Not only Casey, but also Baker, who had only done COOL HAND LUKE and wouldn’t do WALKING TALL for four more years.
It also (SPOILER) has the same number of survivors as SEVEN SAMURAI and MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. In movies, suicide missions really used to be suicide missions, even when they were gonna make a bunch of sequels.
They also were learning moments. I have in my notes that somebody said, “I know this type. He fights for money, not for passion. Matter of business with him.” I believe that’s referring to Chris, and it’s not actually a fair summary of his previous incidents of magnificence. But this is a story where he goes from doing something for the money to actually caring about it, which is a trope I’m always a sucker for, as someone who believes in believing things.
The director of this one was Paul Wendkos, a WWII veteran turned documentarian who made his narrative feature debut with the David Goodis adaptation THE BURGLAR (1957) starring Jayne Mansfield. He also directed the GIDGET trilogy and a whole bunch of TV before this one, and then he became a big TV movie guy. Interestingly this wasn’t his only sequel to a John Sturges movie – he also did part I of the 1988 mini-series THE GREAT ESCAPE II: THE UNTOLD STORY starring Christopher Reeve and Judd Hirsch.
The screenplay is credited to Herman Hoffman, who was also a writer and director who worked in TV alot, but he had recently done another men-on-a-suicide-mission movie, ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST, and after this did THE LAST ESCAPE and THE RELUCTANT HEROES. So he knows this template well.
One thing that is pretty different from the other MAGNIFICENT SEVENs is that this one has a historical figure in it, Young Indiana Jones style. The young son of one of the prisoners is supposed to be future revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (Tony Davis, CITY OF HOPE), who is already eager to be part of the fight to rescue his father, but I’m sure we’re supposed to imply that he was also inspired by these seven magnificents. In particular Levi, who makes him a wooden sword in one of those nice moments where a grumpy curmudgeon is given a new lease on life from being around a kid.
Otherwise it’s a pretty standard rehash. I’m not saying I loved it, but because it’s a pretty well executed version of an enjoyable formula it’s the type of thing I enjoy. I give credit for the diversity of characters and the way their established skills – explosives, knife throwing, lasso – are used in the big battle.
But most of all this is worth watching for the novelty of Kennedy as the heroic lead. I think he acquits himself… should I say magnificently? Well, he’s good in it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.