The franchise winds down
Oft have I waxed lyrical (dig the usage) about The Magnificent Seven, a magnificent Western. I am, however, less enthusiastic about the series of sequels, all pretty poor, which it spawned. The name descended to a mere franchise. In 1966, six years after Chris and Vin led the Seven in defense of that Mexican village against the bandito Calvera (a renegade from the New York stage), Robert Fuller took over from Steve McQueen as Vin in Return of the Seven. It was a pale imitation but at least it had Yul Brynner as Chris again and was directed by Burt Kennedy, so things could have been a lot worse. They were, in 1969, when George Kennedy was Chris in the stodgily-directed and weakly-written Guns of The Magnificent Seven, an eminently missable Western. And then, in 1972, came the last of the (big screen) sequels – or at least the last for the moment – The Magnificent Seven Ride!
Regular readers of this blog, both of them, will know the Arnold Ludicrous Exclamation Point Hypothesis (ALEPH), which posits that a ! in the title of a Western almost guarantees low quality. It’s as if they needed to add the punctuation mark to liven up an otherwise moribund story.
Yet another sequel
In this one we start in the town of Sheridan, Arizona Territory, where a natty-suited Chris (in a rather unfortunate brown) is now marshal, and a pretty uncompromising one too. He is an “important man”, a friend of the Governor, and he name-drops quite a lot. He tells his would-be biographer all about how he and Bat Masterson won the battle of Adobe Walls and how he “outdid” Clay Allison and the Dalton brothers. Slightly odd chronology here, as Adobe Walls was fought in 1874, Allison died accidentally on his ranch in 1887 and the Daltons (most of them) were killed in Coffeyville in 1892. So when is this story set? Well, pardners, who cares?
Lee Van Cleef does his thing
Lee has his pipe (though not the Sharps) from Barquero and all those spaghetti westerns that he was in before and after this effort. He was in that stage of his career that would have been called a late flowering except for the crappy material he acted in. Still, Van Cleef is Van Cleef and glory, laud and honor be his.
This notion of the biographer who shadows the gunman hero has become a familiar Western trope. Probably the best of them was WW Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) in Unforgiven but think too of Bob Dylan in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid or the similar figure played by Hurd Hatfield in The Left-Handed Gun. The would-be scrivener Dobkins (Rick Lenz) in The Shootist gets short shrift from JB Books, though.
Anyway, where were we?
Well, Marshal Lee has a chick and she is brutally “raped, killed and left for the buzzards” by a vicious gang which includes a young man the marshal set free in a moment of weakness. So much for mercy from now on. Although the quality of Lee’s mercy had already been pretty strained.
Before long, of course, we get back to the tried-and-tested plot line of defending a Mexican village from a marauding bandito. This one is named de Toro but he is such a pale imitation of Eli Wallach as to be transparent. We hardly see him at all and there is certainly no character development whatsoever. Poor direction and writing. The former is by George McCowan, a Canadian who reached the heights of fame directing Starsky & Hutch episodes. Responsible for the latter is Arthur Rowe, a writer of Western TV shows, whose last oater this was.
There’s the cliché of recruiting convicts from the territorial prison. They make up the other five, who, with the marshal and the biographer, constitute the less than magnificent seven.
They look like the Daltons in Lucky Luke
If you want to know who these nobodies are (though you probably don’t), you have dime novelist Noah Forbes (Michael Callan), gunslinger Mark Skinner (Luke Askew), explosives expert Pepe Carral (Pedro Armendariz Jr.), big ox Walt Drummond (William Lucking), ex-soldier Andy Hayes (James Sikking) and construction guy Scott Elliott (Ed Lauter). Unlike the originals, however, there is no satisfactory delineation of these characters and so when four of them are killed we hardly even notice and don’t really care.
This film was better than spaghetti westerns of the era and occasionally just staggers up to the mediocre.