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The Magnificent Seven: The Greatest Cast List Of Any Western?

Entertainment | July 16, 2020

Steve McQueen (1930 - 1980) as Vin and Yul Brynner (1920 - 1985) as Chris in 'The Magnificent Seven', 1960. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

The Magnificent Seven didn’t just reinvent the western for the 20th century -- by putting genre actors like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson together on screen, it basically invented a high-powered action ensemble formula we still see today. Whether it's The Dirty Dozen (1967), Young Guns (1988), The Expendables (2010), or the current massive franchises in the Fast & Furious universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we've grown accustomed to seeing our screens packed with handfuls of leading actors. This 1960 western brought together one of the greatest casts that we’ve ever seen and it set the template for dozens of action blockbusters that followed. 

Based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, The Magnificent Seven follows a disparate group of gunfighters who come together to save a small Mexican village from a roving gang of bandits. It’s the ultimate western, and each of the actors who worked on this film turned in the performance of a lifetime. 

Yul Brynner wanted to be the only star in the film

source: United Artists

In 1960 there was no one who was as good at playing a tough as nails cowboy as Yul Brynner. It’s hard to watch Brynner as Chris Adams and not want to join up with his posse. Adams is the classic seen-it-all hero who sees his position in life as nothing more than knowing how to shoot a gun. Famously, Brynner hated working with Steve McQueen, his younger co-star on the picture.

Brynner felt that McQueen was constantly trying to show him up in scenes by playing with his hat and fiddling with his gun. Brynner was reportedly so insecure about McQueen’s star power that he had an assistant count the lines of dialogue that each actor had so he could be sure that he had a bigger part.

Steve McQueen was a real cowboy

source: United Artists

Vin Tanner is the perfect role for Steve McQueen. He cracks wise any chance he can get, and he’s not tethered to anything. Even though he could just as easily be happy in a saloon or alone on the prairie, he helps defend the small Mexican village because he’s got a huge heart - he just doesn’t want anyone to know it.

McQueen wasn’t yet the “King of Cool,” but he was on his way by the time he was cast in The Magnificent Seven. After nearly 100 episodes on Wanted: Dead or Alive he knew a thing or two about westerns, and showed up his co-stars when it came to shooting a six gun on set. He was reportedly able to fire off two rounds in quick succession, and he was such a good hand with a gun that he taught Yul Brynner how to flick his weapon into his holster.

When McQueen was asked about his testy relationship with Brynner on the set, he simply said, “When you work in a scene with Yul, you're supposed to stand perfectly still. I don't work that way."

Charles Bronson had yet to prove himself

source: United Artists

Charles Bronson is one of the greatest tough guys in film history, but he really shines in an ensemble piece like The Magnificent Seven. As Bernardo O'Reilly, a rough neck who needs some quick cash, Bronson takes the viewer on a journey, and it’s amazing to watch him finally come around to saving this village.

Bronson was never one to talk too much about his roles, but the fascinating thing about his work in The Magnificent Seven is that he was 40 years old when it was released. He’d been acting for about a decade prior, but this was the movie that made people notice him. It’s never too late to chase your dreams.

Robert Vaughn thought the movie would be a failure

source: United Artists

As Lee, a traumatized veteran with nightmares of the men he’s killed, Robert Vaughn brings pathos to a film that could have just been a bunch of shooting. Rather than turn Lee into a caricature of a fallen gunman, Vaughn gives the character a sense of realism, and his portrayal parallels the realities experienced by many men who served in World War II or Korea.

According to Vaughn, there was no script during casting and when the actors arrived in Mexico they had to deal with long breaks while the writers figured out what was happening from scene to scene. He explained in his autobiography:

There were long periods when we didn't work because the script was still being written. We’d be told one evening, ‘Tomorrow we'll be doing scene so-and-so.’ And that night carbon copies of the script on onion-skin paper would be slid under our doors to learn for the next day.

With that kind of production Vaughn was certain that the movie was going to be a huge flop, but he admits that he was seriously wrong:

I was convinced that The Magnificent Seven would be a failure. Instead, of course, it became a box-office hit, a star-making vehicle for several in the cast, including Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Charles Bronson, and a classic western drama still enjoyed today almost half a century after it was made. It’s the second-most frequently played movie on American TV. So what the hell do I know?

Brad Dexter got into the movie through his connections

source: United Artists

Known for his tough guy roles, Dexter brings a relentless cool to the film with his portrayal as Harry Luck. It never feels like he’s trying to out-act anyone in the movie, which makes sense when you look at the cast. Dexter has plenty of films and television under his belt, but co-star James Coburn insists that the only reason that the actor was cast is because he was friends with Frank Sinatra. Coburn told Entertainment Weekly:

Every chance Frank got, he would get him in a film. So there was this character in Seven and Frank asked John [Sturges] if he would hire Brad, and John said sure. Strange cat — he lived with his mother. He probably still lives with his mother. And he’s the guy that everybody forgets about.

James Coburn really wanted to be in the movie

source: United Artists

As Britt, the knife expert of the crew, James Coburn is incredibly cool, which is a hard thing to pull off when you’re in a movie with Steve McQueen. To hear Coburn tell it, he was connected to the role in an almost spiritual sense, which is why he’s so awesome in the film even though he only has 11 lines of dialogue.

While speaking about the film in 2001, Coburn says that he loved Seven Samurai and when he found out that Robert Vaughn was working on the American remake he knew that he had to be a part of it. As luck would have it, the only character that hadn’t been cast was Britt, the knife expert. Coburn says that when he saw Seven Samurai, he felt connected to the swordsman. It’s almost as if he was destined to play the role. Coburn explained:

I went over to see [director] John Sturges, and John said, ‘Yeah, there’s one of the seven that hasn’t been cast yet.’ I say, ‘Is that the guy who’s the great swordsman in Kurosawa’s film?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s right.’ I said, ‘That’s the one I wanna play, John.’ He says, ‘I’ll let you know by 3 o’clock.’ So at 2:30 I get a call from him: ‘Come on over and pick up your knives.’

Horst Buchholz was alright

source: United Artists

Out of all the actors in The Magnificent Seven, Horst Buchholz is the guy who feels like he came out of nowhere. He was a German actor who rounded out the seven as Chico, a young man ashamed of his heritage who’s looking for action. In reviews of the film from 1960, it’s noted that Buchholz is an odd casting for the role as an indigenous Mexican man in his early 20s but that “comes off all right.”

Eli Wallach loved being a bad guy

source: IMDB

What’s a good guy without his antagonists? Eli Wallach absolutely destroys this film as Calvera, the leader of the Mexican bandits who run roughshod across the plains. Wallach doesn’t just get the best lines, the best lines in the movie are about him. Initially Wallach says that he was nervous about taking the role, but he noticed something in his script. He writes:

After rereading the script. I realized that even though I only appeared in the first few minutes of the film, the natives spoke about my return for the next 45 minutes: ‘Calvera’s coming.’ ‘When is he coming back?’ — so, I decided to do the part.

Tags: Cast Lists From Popular Movies | Charles Bronson | Eli Wallach | Horst Buchholz | James Coburn | Robert Vaughn | Steve McQueen | The Magnificent Seven | Yul Brynner

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.