RETURN OF THE SEVEN clomped into 1966 as the first lazy retread of The Magnificent Seven, cheating from the boots up, since there was really no seven to return, four having bit Mexican dust in the 1960 classic. Lead cast member Yul Brynner as returns as ‘Chris’, with the other two surviving gunfighters now played by different actors, with less marquee status. Gratefully, Elmer Bernstein’s immortal music score, a version of it anyway, gallops back as well, to placate your ears and take your mind off how much of a cowpie the rest of it is. Bernstein’s themes and a few saddle-proven hardies in the supporting cast keep it on life support. *
When a ruthless ranch baron’s gang kidnaps the men of a Mexican village, help arrives in the form of seven men, three of whom had saved the village from a previous bandit (in a much better movie). Brynner leads gritty gringos Robert Fuller (the new ‘Vin’, Steve McQueen’s character from the original), Claude Akins and Warren Oates, Spain’s Julián Mateos (playing ‘Chico’, done by Horst Buchholz in the first one), Portuguese heartthrob Virgilio Teixeira and pretty boy Jordan Christopher (“introducing”) against a horde of hombres led by Emilio Fernandez (sporting a sombrero you could hide a saguaro cactus under). The redoubtable Rodolfo Acosta is on hand, along with Fernando Rey and Elisa Montés.
Instead of facing 40 opponents as in 1960, now that’s been upped to more than 100. Filming in Spain, Western veteran Burt Kennedy directed, but this isn’t on his plus column; the action scenes are ridiculous. Larry Cohen’s script should have stayed on his typewriter. Brynner’s once-flourishing career was sliding with successive flops, and this bald (sorry) attempt to recapture glory didn’t add any luster to the list. Fuller, Akins and Oates manage to keep their dignity, Fernandez, Acosta and Rey are wasted. At least they got paid.
Bernstein’s recycled music is exciting, and a soundtrack album resulted, which was a boon, as the original score for the 1960 film was not then available on LP (these were the Olden Days). Oddly, the Academy Awards nominated it for an Oscar, as they’d done six years earlier with the original.
In the US a gross of $3,200,000 had ‘The 7’ shooting 73rd in ’66. It did better in Europe, enough to earn re-release a few years later. In total it may have grossed as much as $12,000,000, pretty substantial for a half-baked knock-off.
* Not to be out-gunned, in 1969 came Guns Of The Magnificent Seven, followed by 1972’s The Magnificent Seven Ride, both Yul-less, and each somewhat better than ‘Return‘. George Kennedy led the boys as the unkillable ‘Chris’ in the first, Lee Van Cleef took over with the character and ever-changing crew in the next. Not even Denzel Washington could rescue the upscale 2016 remake, which sucked eggs from here to Durango. The less said about the 1998-2000 TV series the better.