The story this time finds an older Chris, now wiry of build with beady eyes and bushy gray sideburns (and played by Lee Van Cleef), settled down as a town marshal. Pressured by new wife Arilla (Mariette Hartley) to parole a troubled youth, Shelly (Darrell Larson), Chris reluctantly lets the boy go. (spoilers) The couple is repaid for their kindness the very next day, when Shelly and two of his hoodlum friends (including a young Gary Busey) rob a bank, kidnap, rape and murder Arilla.
Joined by a print-the-legend biographer, Noah Forbes (Michael Callan, the young hero in Mysterious Island), an embittered Chris tracks the three violent men. Along the way, Chris and Noah form a posse to aid a border town where nearly all its men have been murdered by some 70 marauding bandits. Unbelievably, Chris goes to a nearby prison and casually offers five killers a pardon if they join his posse. (Perhaps the film should have been called The Dirty Seven Ride!) When Noah notes the 10 to 1 odds against them and suggests they get more men, Chris immediately dismisses the idea because, he says, "Seven's always been my lucky number." Well, maybe for him.
Unlike Return of the Seven (1966) and Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), which at least imitated the look of the first film reasonably well, The Magnificent Seven Ride! is shot like a TV movie, in 1.85:1 format (the others were in Panavision), on a budget probably around $1 million, cheap even by 1972 standards. The previous sequels were made in Spain, but The Magnificent Seven Ride! was filmed in and around Hollywood, on backlot Western streets, and at nearby Vasquez Rocks, whose picturesque scenery is overused here. One particularly cramped backlot street may account for a weird bit of staging, where Chris shoots a key character who flies off his horse at a 90-degree angle. Even Elmer Bernstein's music seems malnourished. Some cues play like stock music, while the opening titles offer the signature theme on what sounds like a meager, 15-piece orchestra.
After finding belated stardom in a long series of Spaghetti Westerns, Van Cleef seems out of place in a conventional Hollywood backlot environment, even though he spent years on these same streets throughout the 1950s and early '60s. He's a welcome presence, in some ways better cast than predecessor George Kennedy, though the script and uninspired direction err mightily in trying to mold him into a conventional Western hero type. He's not remotely recognizable as the Chris from the Yul Brynner films, or as the kind of characters Van Cleef played in his spaghettis.
The film is a peculiar mix of family fare and brutal post-Peckinpah Western. Some gunshot deaths are shown the old-fashioned way, with actors clutching their stomach, wincing and falling to the ground with no sign of blood or even a bullet hole in their shirt. Others die via bright red blood packs. More than a dozen women are raped in the course of the film (thankfully not shown), yet on the eve of battle a padre cheerfully serves lemonade -- lemonade -- to a hardened posse led by Pa Walton himself, actor Ralph Waite.
The script also has a peculiar sense of elapsed time. Chris's beloved wife is raped and brutally murdered, yet within days of her death Chris happily begins flirting with another woman (Stephanie Powers), who herself was widowed and gang raped only days before.
One is tempted to give the film credit for adopting a faintly elegiac air, and for making Chris, in the opening scenes at least, a bit more reflective than usual. But such Westerns were commonplace by the early-1970s, and this is hardly on the level of The Cowboys (also 1972) or The Shootist (1976). The film imitates the earlier films in odd ways. As in the first Magnificent Seven, the leader of the bandits, De Toro, is given a huge build-up -- everybody talks about him as if he were the Devil incarnate. This was done in the first film to build Eli Wallach's character, Calvera, into a truly formidable villain. But when De Toro finally turns up at the climax, the camera barely acknowledges his presence. He has no lines and is nearly indistinguishable from the other bandits.
Except for Chris, the seven are even less defined than they were in Guns of the Magnificent Seven. You'll learn more about them in the trailer than you do in the actual movie. For the record, besides Chris and Noah, there's expert shot Skinner (Luke Askew), token Hispanic Pepe (Pedro Armendarez, Jr.), dumb ox Walt (William Lucking), strategist Captain Hayes (James Sikking), and explosives man Scott (Ed Lauter).
Video & Audio
Though shot with no visual flair of any kind, The Magnificent Seven Ride! looks pretty good in its widescreen, 16:9 transfer. The English mono is clean if unimpressive. A Spanish audio track, also mono, is offered as an alternate track, along with English, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Included is an amusingly misleading trailer, suggesting a film full of a lot more excitement than there actually is, and implying the original film's characters were all reuniting for one last hurrah. The trailer is in okay shape and also 16:9 anamorphic.
It's too bad the Mirisch Corporation, producers of all four films, simply milked the series until it ran dry. A good script that went in new directions might have lured back both Brynner and McQueen (and Horst Buchholz, for that matter) for what might have been a series of really great Westerns, instead of a series of uninspired retreads. While Return and Guns are passable, barely, The Magnificent Seven Ride! is definitely one sequel too many. At least.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.