Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen. Dir: John Sturges
I am not a lover of westerns. Really, I’m more of a dis-liker of westerns, unless they’re really good. I don’t think I can name 10 westerns that I could sit through, let alone like. Here’s one I can name, though. Wow. You know, when I start up with a recommendation for a movie that I really love, my head gets all jumbled with what I should say first. Should I start with the actors, the settings, the ambiguous plot description? Just so many sentence fragments come rushing into my brain all at the same time. It’s almost painful.
Yul Brynner. That’s what I want to say first. His voice envelops me from head to toe and I lose my train of thought, such as it is. Oh yes, but he’s saying words. Must pay attention. I enjoy his performance in this film. I like his on-screen chemistry with Steve McQueen a lot. Much has been said about their off-screen chemistry, suffice it to say, it wasn’t good. When the sequel was made, there was no McQueen to be found. Charles Bronson was lovable. WHAT? Bronson? LOVABLE? Yes. That’s what I said. And that’s what I meant. Robert Vaughn may as well have held the back of his hand up to his forehead and fainted in this movie. It’s not his fault though, it was just a dumb character. Not enough James Coburn, but has there ever really been enough of him in any movie?
Now, let me get to the part that I’m most excited about- Eli Wallach. He plays the evil Mexican gang leader that the Magnificent Seven are hired to rid the village of. (That, by the way, was my ambiguous-ish plot description) “But Eli Wallach isn’t Mexican” you are saying in your mind. Or you are saying “Who’s Eli Wallach?”. I’ll address that question in a moment. Back to the non-Mexican Eli. When I first saw this movie, I kept looking for Wallach because I read his name in the credits and it was not until about 20 minutes after first seeing him that I realized who he was. Astounding. He was amazing. Very realistic characterization, especially for a western film made in 1960. About the second question: Eli Wallach is a 98 year old actor who started in theater, moved on to television in 1951 and has been working in movies since 1956. His most recent credit is listed as 2 years ago. Maybe you saw him in “The Holiday” in 2006? He was the little old man that Kate Winslet befriended. And if you’ve been watching much in the way of classic movies, maybe you’ve seen him in “The Misfits” (the film he made after “The Magnificent Seven”) in which he starred beside Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift. Prolific and amazingly talented. I love this man.
Oh yes, and it’s a great story, very well-written, and some flawless ad-libbing. Unless you ask Yul Brynner (which of course, you can’t) because Steve McQueen constantly pissed him right off with his ad-libbing. It’s actually kind of fun to watch the movie keeping in the forefront of your mind how much Brynner came to dislike McQueen during its filiming.
So watch it for the plot, watch it for Yul Brynner’s voice, watch it for McQueen’s witty repartee, watch it because today is (insert day of week here), but most of all, watch it for Eli Wallach. You will not be angry with me for insisting.