Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)
Where Yul Brynner leaves off, George Kennedy takes over as the head gunslinger Chris in the third of four films released under the series banner.
The original is an acknowledged classic while the 3 sequels are minor entries in the western genre. Having said that, this film is a vast improvement on the disappointing Return of the Seven. Where that film had very little plot, this one is coherent and Kennedy adds a strong presence to the men on a mission genre. Coming off an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke allowed him to take leading roles instead of playing bad guys who get theirs when tangling with the likes of the Duke.
Enlisted to free revolutionist Fernando Rey from a south of the border prison run by sadistic Michael Ansara, Kennedy rides along with Monte Markam, James Whitmore, Joe Don Baker, Bernie Casey, Scott Thomas and Reni Santoni. The all new Seven.
It’s a by the numbers formula as Kennedy goes about drafting a new seven. Markham is saved from a hanging, Casey is the Jim Brown of the group that was surely inspired by Brown’s role in The Dirty Dozen. Next up is our new knife man James Whitmore subbing for James Coburn. In an early role is Joe Don Baker as a one armed sharpshooter with demons of his own reminding one of Robert Vaughn in the original. Thomas is on life support as a gun hand with TB and Santoni is a Mexican freedom fighter who steps in for Horst Buchholz.
Now that we have our seven recruits, cue Elmer Bernstein’s rousing soundtrack held over from the original film.
The sadism is up a notch this time with Ansara dishing out torture as he sees fit. With Rey not talking, more will be sure to die by the time Kennedy and company arrive. Once they do, it’s just a matter of time before actions speak louder than words and the fencing between Kennedy and Ansara escalates to gunfire.
The plot points here are very reminiscent of other westerns of the era. Villa Rides and The Wild Bunch spring to mind. I prefer Villa Rides to this film but neither can compete with Peckinpah’s classic. One thing these films do offer us are decent casts. Kennedy turned up in a number of my favorites so having him step in for Yul isn’t so bad and anytime James Whitmore shows up in a film is a pleasure. The same can be said of Baker and Casey.
And yes, Reni Santoni is indeed Poppi of Seinfeld fame.
The next film in the series run would replace Kennedy with spaghetti specialist Lee Van Cleef for the series swansong in 1972. Of the three sequels I would say this is the best of the lot. That may not be saying much in light of the original but it can make for a decent rainy day viewing.