Sunday, November 23, 2008


"The Magnificent Seven Ride!" (** out of ****) qualifies as a saddle sore sequel compared to the two previous sequels, Burt Kennedy's "Return of the Seven" (1966) and Paul Wendkos' "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" (1968) and the incomparable John Sturges original "The Magnificent Seven." Lee Van Cleef is the best thing about "The Magnificent Seven Ride." He looks like he belongs in this tame horse opera and his performance is top-notch. No, he doesn't resemble either Yul Brynner or George Kennedy. He lends a commanding presence that this woebegone western desperately needs. The rest of the cast look like they're collecting a paycheck. Moreover,this "Seven" lacks depth of character and generates no more than a modicum of sympathy, unlike their forerunners.

"Frogs" director George McCowan manages to keep the action galloping along for its 100 minutes, and seasoned TV scenarist Arthur Rowe has altered the formula for this outing. For example, unlike the original, our heroes attack the Hispanic villain's camp before they engage him in a fight to the death in the village at the end. Unfortunately, "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" breaks far too many rules. The villain amounts to a one-dimensional cipher with no personality. Indeed, he doesn't utter a word. The best part of this lackluster western occurs in the last twenty minutes as the seven prepare for the onslaught of De Toro's men. "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" looks tired, empty, and worn out owing to its ersatz back lot setting and familiar television locales. Clearly, McCowan could not surmount the obstacles inherent in the low budget. Interestingly, while he doesn't stage the action scenes with distinction, McCowan does frame the gunfights occasionally so that we see more participants in the same shot with the shooter killing his adversary, something that used to be frowned upon back in the Golden Age of Hollywood. Walter Thompson does a competent editing job, but he doesn't have much with which to work so the film has a routine rhythm to it. Talented "Patton" lenser Fred J. Koenekamp had little time to make this sagebrusher look as majestic as the earlier "Seven" entries.

Die-hard "Magnificent Seven" fans have every right to abhor this lame western. I saw it in the theatre when it came out in 1972 and found it nothing short of deplorable. "The Magnificent Seven Ride!" doesn't live up to the Sturges, Kennedy, and Wendkos films. In fact, Geoff Murphy's television pilot surpasses the McCowan film. I remember "Playboy" magazine film critic Bruce Williamson commented that "TM7R" got by "on bits and pieces." In retrospect, more than 30 years later, my aversion to this film has dissipated. Although the McCowan film has its good points, the bad points set aside most of its assets. The stupendous Elmer Bernstein orchestral score seems to have lost its grandeur, too.

"The Magnificent Seven Ride!" opens with Chris (Lee Van Cleef) and another horseman skedaddling out of town. One of Chris' pals from the past,former bounty hunter Jim McKay (Ralph Waite of "The Stone Killer"), is riding to see him in the hope that he can enlist Chris' help against a dastardly Mexican bandit called De Toro. Two of De Toro's men lay in ambush for Jim, but Chris guns down them without mercy and saves his old friend's life. When Jim asks Chris to ride with him, our pipe-smoking protagonist refuses. Not only has he ridden to Mexico three times before, but now he has taken a wife, Arrila (Mariette Hartley of "Barquero"), "who's still practically a bride." McKay reminds Chris that he saved his life, but Chris isn't about to budge. MacKay reminds them about the first time that they went south and earned only $50 dollars per man. Chris still turns him down.

Meanwhile, an out-of-work journalist, Noah Forbes (Michael Callan of "Cat Ballou"),wants to immortalize Chris the same way that Ned Buntline did Buffalo Bill Cody. While all this is transpiring, Arrila pleads with Chris to turn loose an 18-year old robber Shelly (Darrell Larson) who is about to be sent to serve a stretch in Tucson Territorial Prison. Eventually, Arrila wears her husband down and Chris frees Shelly. Shelly repays him by robbing the town bank, wounding him in the shoulder, and abducting Arrila. Chris and Noah track down Shelly's accomplices and Chris shoots them down in cold blood. Chris crosses trails with Jim again. Jim is the law in a Sonora village called Magdalena. Magdalena is a farming village that consists primarily of Mexicans with a few American families. De Toro (Ron Stein)and his army of gunmen terrorize the border. Neither the Rurales nor the U.S. Calvary have had any luck thwarting his notorious activities. Worse, neither refuse to work with the other. When Chris runs into Jim the second time, he learns that Shelly has ridden by and left. Chris learns later that Shelly joined De Toro's gang and showed them a rear approach (a la "The 300 Spartans")and the bandit killed Jim. As it turns out, Jim killed Shelly. "He's done my job," Chris observed, "I'll do his."

Chris rides into Magdalena and discovers a village comprised now of wives who are widows and some children. They don't have enough horses to escort the wives out of the village, and Chris refuses to let them walk across the desert where they would be easy targets for the villains. Since De Toro and his gang have ridden north across the border, Chris promises Mrs. Laurie Gunn (Stephanie Powers of "Hart to Hart")that he will return. She has her doubts. Noah and Chris ride to Tucson Territorial Prison where Chris presented pardons signed by the governor and the warden reluctantly paroles into his custody Walt Drummond (William Lucking), Scott Elliot (Ed Lauter of "The Longest Yard"), Matt Skinner (Luke Askew of "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid"), Pepe Carral (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.), and ex-Army officer Andy Hayes(James B. Sikking of "Star Trek 3"). Chris warns them that he has to consign the pardons before they can be freed and that he dies under any circumstances that the law will track them down. Chris has Elliot, who is a demolitions expert, ride a
wagon filled with explosives. They set out for De Toro's hacienda and attack it. The closest thing to cool in this western is when Pepe sits perched on the roof with a cigar glowing in his mouth, ignites a stick of dynamite, and uses his bullwhip to deliver it under the awning where two Mexicans are operating a Gatling gun during their attack. The problem, however, is that you can see the dummy explode when the dynamite detonates. Our heroes takes De Toro's woman hostage and Chris lets one of De Toro's men go to warn his boss. Before he releases the Mexican, he identifies himself and the rest of his men. Now, the convicts cannot escape and hide in Mexico if Chris dies because De Toro will track them down, and they cannot escape across the border because the law will come after them. In other words, these five convicts aren't the saintly bunch that filled the ranks of the seven in the other movies. Okay, this serves as a nod to realism, but it doesn't endear them to us.

"The Magnificent Seven Ride!" looks completely different from the three earlier oaters. "The Magnificent Seven" was made in Mexico, and "Return of the Seven" and "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" were shot in scenic Spain. In fact, "TM7R" was shot at Universal Studios back lot where "Laredo," "Alias Smith & Jones," and "The Virginian" were made. The exterior desert scenes were lensed at Vasquez Rocks where Captain Kirk battled an alien in the "Star Trek" episode "Arena" and where virtually every cheapjack genre B-movie has been shot.

"The Magnificent Seven Ride! isn't very magnificent.