I don’t think that I’m out of line suggesting that the previous, 1966 incarnation of The Magnificent Seven was anything but; however Return Of The Seven, despite being a carbon copy of the original classic, lacked the honor, style and electricity that made the first film an undisputed classic. Even though the film saw a returning Yul Brenner assemble another septuplet of emotionally fractured gunslingers and set them against a band of bandits in order to liberate yet another village of humble mexican farmers, the whole thing felt a little flat – but that didn’t stop the filmmakers breaking out the exact same plot yet again three years later for a third-go round.
However, while Return lost Steve McQueen in favour of Robert Fuller, Guns Of The Magnificent Seven managed to hemorrhage Brynner too – but curiously not the character who he heroically played.
That’s right pilgrims, for tonight’s performance of Guns Of The Magnificent Seven, the role of Chris Adams will be played by * checks notes* George Kennedy? Really? Ok then…
After tirelessly opposing the dictatorship of President Diaz, Mexican revolutionary Quintero is finally captured by Federales led by the cruel Colonal Diego. Diego celebrates this obvious coup by immediately being the biggest bastard he can by callously torturing and killing everyone he can get his hands on who followed Quintero and listened to his speeches. However, narrowly escaping a fate being dragged to death by horses, idealistic Maximiliano manages to escape and with $600 of Quintero’s money (and, thankfully, his blessing), he crosses the border in order to hire help.
Naturally he crosses paths with the legendary Chris Adams who has obtained a bit of notoriety for being a man who assembles six other men and helps the helpless, so when he hears of Max’s problem he – well, he assembles six other men to help the helpless; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess…
This time round he gathers up Keno, a brawling horse thief he recently saved from the noose; hulking, black dynamite expert Cassie; Slater, a one-armed sharp-shooter with depression and a racism issue; the aging knife-man, Levi, who has since started a family and P.J., a wrangler who’s problems with tuberculosis are overshadowed by the fact that the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. With Max making seven, the group ride out with the intention of busting Quintero out of jail despite the fact that they’ll have to infiltrate a prison-fort and are laughably outnumbered, but the odds are slightly evened when they recruit 20 captured farmers destined to be murdered at Diego’s hands.
As this is the third time Chris has led a ragtag team into the jaws of certain death, you’d think he’d have a little apprehension about tooling up to fight unwinable odds – but the one thing he does better than feeding lost men into hails of bullets is liberating Mexicans – so I guess odds are about 50/50…
When I first heard that the filmmakers couldn’t even get Yul Brynner to return, I have to admit I was somewhat doubtful – but when I heard that the Russian-born icon was being replaced by the rumpled form of George Kennedy I was all but convinced that this Seven would be firing blanks for certain. It’s not that I have anything against Kennedy – he’s been robustly reliable in everything from the Airport movies, to The Naked Gun films, to Cool Hand Luke – but getting him to fill in for Yul Brynner is like getting Dennis Franz to replace Harrison Ford. However, conveniently forget that he’s a continuing character and Guns Of The Magnificent Seven manages to play far better than its predecessor, which I have to admit caught me a little off guard.
It’s not a patch on the original, of course and as sequels go, it commits many of the same offenses Return did by chiefly being hideously unoriginal and yet it plays far better than it has any right to.
So yes, once again, Mexicans are bring oppressed – this time by a revolution quashing Colonal – and so this third attempt follows the two previous movie virtually beat for beat with only minimal details being even remotely different, however, while Return ranked up a fairly forgettable band of troubled heroes, Guns collection of emotionally damaged reprobates are a far more diverse bunch. The exception to the rule is Scott Thomas’ wheezing P.J., a man who not only has a life threatening illness and a romantic arc with a girl from the village but still manages to make no impact on the film whatsoever.
On the other hand, Joe Don Baker portrays his disabled, self-loathing sharpshooter with enough character for four men, hurling himself about the place like a maniac and trying to cut his own, limp arm off with an axe in a self-pitying rage. Similarly, Bernie Casey’s brooding ex-slave is fairly interesting, although the moments where both he and Parker attempt to find some much needed middle ground by comparing the hardships of being crippled with the hardships of being black probably played far better in ’69 than it does now. Elsewhere Monte Markham is a decent fill in for the charismatic sidekick, but James Whitmore exudes genuine warmth as a retired blade man who needs the money to keep his family afloat and is probably one of the most well rounded characters any of the Magnificent Seven sequels has ever enjoyed. Also adding to the plus points are Dirty Harry’s Reni Santoni as the latest, star struck villager who looks up to the stoic Chris (although the fact that he describes the doughy Adams as “cool as the other side of the pillow” probably suggests he needs to get out more) and a truly nasty villain who’s elaborate methods of torture (buried up to the neck and trampled by horses, anyone?) truly make him worthy of being taken down by our leads.
However, while a slower pace makes the film carry some much needed weight, the film drops the ball when literally pulling the trigger on some of those plot threads. Some of the most interesting characters bite it frustratingly early once the climactic bullets start flying and thus it leads to some of the fatalities losing fair amount of the impact they could have had. Still, the final battle is big and boomy enough to be worthy of your time and for all the jabs I’ve given him throughout this review, Kennedy ably holds it all together with that grounded, no nonsense-charm that carried him through countless genres over the years.
While hardly a shining example of the genre, Guns Of The Magnificent Seven is just solid enough to be a worthy entry in a franchise that – if we’re being honest – probably shouldn’t existed. Derivative? Painfully, but this seven-shooter comes loaded with enough in the chamber to squeak by.