This Week's Review: "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Great Escape"

During the recent deluge, I watched two very good films, both directed by John Sturges: “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape.”  I had never thought about them as a matched set, but the similarities are more than skin-deep. Both films deal with a small group determined to achieve a dangerous goal, regardless of the consequences.

The 1960 version of “The Magnificent Seven,” was, of course, inspired by Akiro Kurosawa’s classic “Seven Samurai,” but it is now an icon of the Western genre. Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen were already well-established, but Sturges also gave a major impetus to the careers of several minor actors; e.g., Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Robert Vaughan. Sturges also hired Elmer Bernstein to provide the score; it quickly acquired a life of its own and I have always regretted that the main theme was misused by a certain tobacco company for several years.

Sturgis based his 1963 film, “The Great Escape,” on a non-fiction book by Paul Brickhill. I remember seeing it on opening night in Norman, Oklahoma. Many in the audience, unfamiliar with the book and expecting something similar to “Hogan’s Heroes,” gasped at the unexpected fate of many of the major characters. Sturges used Bronson, Coburn, and McQueen again; he also gave James Garner, known then for his work as television’s Maverick, one of his first movie roles. Elmer Bernstein again provided the score which is still highly regarded. “Stalag 17” may be a better depiction of life in a German prisoner-of-war camp, but

Other Sturges films worth remembering are “Bad Day at Black Rock” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” but I will always be partial to these two.