After three sequels, a t.v. series and a new remake, it jolting to see John Sturges’ original (itself a redo in Western drag of Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI) for the mediocrity it is. Occasionally, as in a sweeping action sequence with bandit horsemen riding thru town, or when the best of the gunmen hired to protect the town (Steve McQueen & James Coburn) try to top each other in sheer coolness (lanky Coburn walks away with it), you can see the fan appeal. But take away the famous Elmer Bernstein theme music (the sole magnificent thing in here*), and there’s a lot of dramatic dross and some surprisingly bad acting. Brad Dexter, forgettable as a dense fortune-hunting outlaw; Horst Buchholz, painfully inauthentic as the Mexican ‘Chico;’ Robert Vaughn, sincere in all the wrong ways. The remaining four certainly make their mark, but Eli Wallach’s villainous bandito still runs them off the screen. Likely it’s one of those films you need to see at the right impressionable age.
DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, the Kurosawa original (trimmed by nearly an hour in the Stateside release that inspired this remake); OR: Check out how the socio-political changes of the ‘60s helped Sam Peckinpah & Co. blow this to smithereens in THE WILD BUNCH/’69.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Marlboro Cigarettes imprinted Bernstein’s bold theme on a couple of generations, but his next Western score, THE COMANCHEROS/’61, may be even better.