I picked up a two-disc collectors’ edition of The Magnificent Seven a couple of days ago. Would this 1960 John Sturges western be considered a classic without Elmer Bernstein‘s rousing score? I don’t think so. And yet I’ve always preferred it to Akira Kurosawa‘s The Seven Samurai (’54), which Seven is a remake of, because of the zen coolness factor provided by Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn.
I’m not saying it’s not a legendary western or a great guy movie, but it’s too talky. On one level I admire Sturges’ decision to clearly state the themes with William Roberts, Walter Bernstein and Walter Newman‘s above-average dialogue, but there’s just too much of it. When in doubt say less, or better yet nothing. Silences and visual suggestions can be golden.
And I’ve always been bothered by the affected acting style of Robert Vaughn (i.e. the way he conspicuously smacks his lips and draws a breath before delivering each line) — a huge pain in the ass. And if only the English spoken by the Mexican peasants was a little less correct with maybe a little Spanish thrown in from time to time. These guys sound like Hispanic literature professors at L.A. City College.
But the worst thing about it are those awful gunshot sounds. Every time someone fires we hear the exact same guh-BACH-auhl sound, like the sound team recorded one gunshot out in a canyon somewhere and used the same fragment over and over and over. God! I would go so far to say that the Magnificent Seven gunshots are the most irritating in motion picture history. The guilty parties are Del Harris (sound effects editor) and sound assistants Rafael Esparza and Jack Solomon.
I would go further and say that a defining trait of all first-rate westerns and urban action films is that the gunshots always sound awesome. The best six-shooter gunshots ever heard in motion picture history are in Shane, of course. They sound like warship cannons in an echo chamber. (Director George Stevens expended great effort, of course, to achieve this effect.) Another film with excellent gunshots is Michael Mann‘s Collateral, except they’ve never sounded as good on the DVD as they did when I first saw it at an Arclight press screening.