John Sturges' 1960 Western "The Magnificent Seven" remains one of the most popular westerns ever made --spawning two sequels and a television series. None of them capture the intensity or dramatic impact of this film. The story is simple--seven disparate gunfighters are all down on their luck. Into a border town come three Mexican peasants looking for men with experience in gun-fighting to save their village from being plundered and terrorized by a bandit and his pack of parasites. One by one the gunfighters agree to ride to the village and save the destitute farmers.
The film helped make stars of Steve Mc Queen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and contributed to the later international stardom of Charles
Bronson. The film score by Elmer Bernstein is a classic as well. Bernstein studied with the master composer Aaron Copland and he does his old teacher proud here.
Both this film and Akira Kurosawa's classic original "Seven Samurai" (1954) raise the issue of why men will take up a cause that offers such little reward. In Kurosawa's original the samurais are men facing the collapse of feudal Japan in the late 16th Century. Their leader fights because of honor; others fight because the farmers can offer food; some of them fight simply because this is their profession, or out of loyalty to their leader.
The theme of a lone man coming into a small town on the edge of civilization and taming the bad guys, then riding off into the sunset is a standard Western theme. It was one that Kurosawa--a fan of the films of Western director John Ford--took the main part of and added the code of the samurai to create a masterpiece that introduced Torshiro Mifuni to Western audiences.
(Here's a compilation of the 1960 film put together by Austinmillbarge22 from You Tube.)
The gunmen in the Sturges' Western are not members of any feudal class, but they are men of a dying breed, facing the fallout from the taming of the West. This, to me, is the end of America's Homeric "Age of Heroes" in popular culture . This Western was a big-budget , big screen "last hurrah" before the bad news from the War in Vietnam changed the zeitgeist of the country. Only John Wayne could make Westerns like this after the 1960's came to maturity--and Wayne's films became increasingly anachronistic and stilted.
The American version of this story seems to take place in the railroad-dominated West of the 1890s: those wide-open frontier towns that needed gunmen to keep the peace between the cow punchers and the hot-head gamblers are rapidly being tamed.
Like the Samurai, their way of life is at an end. The irony of the American film is that many critics and film-makers today see The Magnificent Seven as the last real American Western before television shows like "Bonanza" and "Rawhide" and their inferior cousins added to the glut of Western shows and killed popular interest in the genre. Another factor was the rise of the ultra nihilist and violent "Spaghetti Westerns" of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone changed the genre forever.
When Akira Kurosawa saw the 1960 remake of his masterpiece, he sent a gift to John Sturges in appreciation--a ceremonial Japanese sword.