May 18, 2008

Indians in The Magnificent Seven

Normally we don't associate The Magnificent Seven, the classic Western based on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, with Indians. "Everyone knows," even those who haven't seen it, that it's about cowboys vs. Mexican banditos. But Indians do play a minor but essential role in the movie.

In fact, it's an Indian who first brings Chris (Yul Brynner) and Vin (Steve McQueen) together to form the group's nucleus. Unfortunately, he's a dead Indian who's been lying in the street two days. Here's the undertaker (Whit Bissell) explaining the situation to Henry and another salesman:Undertaker:  They say he isn't fit to be buried there.

Salesman:  What? In Boot Hill?!

Henry:  There's nothing up there but murders, cutthroats and derelict old barflies, and if they ever felt exclusive, brother they're past it now.

Undertaker:  They happen to be white, friend. And old Sam ... old Sam was an Indian.

Henry:  Well I'll be damned. I never knew you had to be anything but a corpse to get into Boot Hill. How long's this been going on?

Undertaker:  Since the town got `civilized`. Oh it's not my doing, boys, I don't like it, no sir. I've always treated every man the same, just as another future customer.
Chris and Vin agree to drive the hearse up the street to the cemetery. A crowd follows them and someone shouts "Injun lovers!" But they face down the opposition and ensure that Old Sam is buried properly.

We don't know if Chris and Vin harbor other prejudices, but their willingness to stick up for an Indian is telling. Clearly, they have the stuff of heroes inside them. It's no surprise when they decide to protect a poor Mexican town for the principle of it.

Judging by the town's festival, the farmers' culture has a strong Indian influence. Their celebration is a mixture of Catholic and Native religion (e.g., a dancer wearing a deer's head). You can see similar celebrations in New Mexico's pueblos today.

Also, the Harry Luck character keeps speculating about what the seven are really protecting: gold, silver, gemstones, etc. Eventually he suggests it must be "Aztec treasure." It's a further confirmation that the region has Indian roots.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Not so careful was the 1998 - 2000 TV series, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. In a parallel plot, a Native village comes under attack and predation by a gang of Confederate expatriates. Members of the village head for nearby towns to recruit white men for protection. They contact and bring together seven differing men of unique skills. After the story's resolution, the men remain in loose association and take up residence in a small town where they receive other such opportunities. Several episodes were sterling, especially one gritty story where they must rescue indentured women who were forced into prostitution.
But the two-part pilot was a mess, Native-wise. One, the Natives were Seminoles, in the Old West. Two, they lived in arid, rocky desert and the village was an adobe pueblo. Three, they dressed like Yaquis and/or Apaches. The pilot otherwise was well done, full of action, good acting, crisp dialog, and a worthy 'origin' story. But writerfella remembered one caveat taught by Gene L. Coon when they worked together at Universal: Write it right the first time and get it right the first time because you can't trust THEM to get it right anytime!!
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

Seminoles dressed as Apaches building pueblo in a mud-free desert area. Well, I guess it could have been worse. Were any of them named Squanto, and did they have totem poles in front of their pueblos?