Sterling Hayden was originally supposed to play the knife expert, Britt. Hayden dropped out for unknown reasons, so John Sturges sent out an extensive casting call. Robert Vaughn (Lee) recommended his old schoolmate and friend James Coburn for the role. Vaughn and Coburn helped each other get roles throughout the rest of Coburn's life.
Although the film received only mixed reviews, John Sturges got a rave from the one source that really mattered to him. After seeing the picture, Akira Kurosawa was so impressed, he sent the American director a ceremonial sword as a gift.
James Coburn was a big fan of Seven Samurai (1954) and his favorite role in that film was the character that he ended up playing in the Americanized version. He deliberately incorporated Seiji Miyaguchi's performance as Kyuzo into his performance.
Yul Brynner had a major say in casting decisions, including the decision to cast Steve McQueen. He specifically requested that McQueen be cast as Vin Tanner. Brynner later regretted the move since he and McQueen developed a disastrous relationship on set.
The "bandit gang" hired for Calvera adopted Eli Wallach as one of their own. In the mornings before shooting started, but after Wallach was in costume, he and the group would go riding together for an hour. Additionally, members of the gang insisted on doing the final checks for Wallach's horse tack and prop gun before he was allowed to use either.
In later years, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen reconciled. McQueen, dying of cancer, called Brynner to thank him. "What for?" queried Brynner. "You coulda had me kicked off the movie when I rattled you," replied McQueen, "but you let me stay and that picture made me, so thanks". Brynner told him, "I am the king and you are the rebel prince: every bit as royal . . . and dangerous to cross." McQueen said, "I had to make it up with Yul 'cause without him I wouldn't have been in that picture."
According to Eli Wallach's autobiography, Yul Brynner had a major problem with what he perceived as Steve McQueen's trying to upstage him. According to Wallach, McQueen would do things when on screen with Brynner to draw attention to his character. Examples were his shaking of the shotgun shells and taking off his hat to check the sun during the hearse scene and leaning off his horse to dip his hat in the river when the Seven cross into Mexico. Brynner was supposedly so worried about McQueen stealing his limelight in scenes that he hired an assistant to count the number of times McQueen touched his own hat when he [Brynner] was speaking.
Yul Brynner (5'10") was concerned to make sure he always appeared substantially taller than Steve McQueen (5'9 1/2"), to the point of making a little mound of earth and standing on it in all their shots together. McQueen, for his part, casually kicked at the mound every time he passed by it.
Mexican censors required the peasants to always be wearing clean clothes, despite being farmers. This caused a huge delay since it meant that dozens of intentionally dirty costumes had to be thoroughly cleaned before filming could commence.
The oneupmanship between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen spread to the other actors, and they all started pulling stunts of their own in order to get the audience's attention. While a lot of the attention-hogging did make it into the finished film, John Sturges was terrified by how quickly he lost control of his cast.
Steve McQueen wanted to act in this film but couldn't at first because the schedule of his TV series, Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958), wouldn't allow it. He crashed a car and while he was "out sick", he shot this film.
Steve McQueen tried to draw attention from Yul Brynner by taking off his hat to shade his eyes as he looks around just before they drive the hearse to the graveyard and bending down from his saddle to dip water with his hat as the whole crew crosses a stream. Finally Brynner said to him, "If you don't stop that I'm going to take off my hat, and then no one will look at you for the rest of the film."
Pay close attention to Eli Wallach whenever he handles his gun. Whenever he puts the gun back into his holster, he always looks down at it. That was because Wallach wasn't used to drawing the weapon and didn't want to look foolish by missing the holster while putting his gun back, as Wallach would admit in the DVD Documentary.
When Vin takes off his hat before Chris starts the horses pulling the hearse, he is actually checking for the presence of wind and from what direction. Although at short distances a coach shotgun is effective, wind is less of a factor than it would be with weapons that had greater range; still, the move was a calculated one by Steve McQueen in his frequent efforts to steal the scene.
Eli Wallach wore a silk shirt and sported gold rings and teeth because he "wanted to show what the bandit did with his loot." He also used the silver-trimmed saddle that Marlon Brando had used in One-Eyed Jacks (1961).
The film was cast quickly to beat an actor's strike. The only chance of getting the movie made was to assemble the main cast before the strike began, so there was a furious rush to get seven actors together. The cast was just barely assembled in time.
The movie appears to be set sometime in the mid- to late 1880s. However, all of the main characters wear low-slung, Buscadero-style holsters, which were basically unknown before the early 1900s. Actual belt guns in the "Wild West" era were worn at the belt line, usually in cross-draw holsters as they were both more comfortable to wear and easier to draw from while mounted on a horse.
When filming began in Mexico, problems arose with the local censors, who demanded changes to the ways that the Mexican villagers would be portrayed. Walter Newman, who had written the screenplay, was asked to travel to the location to make the necessary script revisions, but refused. The changes written in by William Roberts were deemed significant enough to merit him a co-writing credit. Newman refused to share the credit, though, and had his name removed from the film entirely.
The name of Charles Bronson's character, Bernardo O'Reilly, is a reference to Chilean independence leader Bernardo O'Higgins, who freed Chile from Spanish rule in the Chilean War of Independence (1810-26) and who was also part Hispanic and part Irish.
Filming took place in Mexico at a time when the country did not take kindly to Hollywood productions due to the controversy surrounding Vera Cruz (1954). It was agreed that they could shoot there as long as Mexican censors were allowed on set to dictate what could and couldn't be shown, so as to avoid another disaster.
Many US Navy ships adopt a theme song based on their name or hull number. The song would be played when leaving port or when completing an underway replenishment. The guided missile destroyer USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7) adopted this movie's theme. In addition, she had a blue and gold flag that would be broken at the truck when playing the theme song. The flag said, "Magnificent 7."
Stephen King used the premise of this film as the basis for his fifth Dark Tower novel, "Wolves of the Calla". The unfortunate town is called Calla Bryn Sturgis, after this film's director, John Sturges.
Eli Wallach recalled struggling to conceal his amusement while watching the filming of the funeral-procession scene where Chris and Vin first meet: Yul Brynner was furious at Steve McQueen's shotgun-round-shake, which effectively diverted the viewer's attention to McQueen. Brynner refused to draw his gun in the same scene with McQueen, not wanting his character outdrawn.
According to Robert Vaughan, Steve McQueen complained about the gun Yul Brynner was using in the film, a Colt Peacemaker with an ivory grip. "You didn't notice it?" McQueen asked. "It has a fuckin' pearl handle. He shouldn't have a gun like that. It's too fuckin' fancy. Nobody's gonna look at anything else with that goddamn gun in the picture". McQueen also complained about the size of Brynner's horse, mostly that it was the biggest. Vaughn replied that he--Vaughn--actually had the biggest horse. "I don't care about yours," McQueen told him. "It's Brynner's horse I'm worried about."
The original screenplay was written by Walter Bernstein, but it was later reworked almost beyond recognition by Walter Newman, and Newman's version is what was used for shooting. However, during shooting, rewrites were frequently required on set and Newman was unavailable, so William Roberts was brought in to take his place. When it was suggested that Roberts get a co-credit, Newman was so furious that he demanded that his name be removed from the project completely, so Roberts ended up getting full onscreen credit for a screenplay he only edited.
In the original script, as in Seven Samurai (1954), the farmers leave the village to hire mercenaries. This was changed to appease the Mexican censors, who didn't want their country to appear weak or oppressed.
According to the "Making Of" documentary from the Special Edition DVD version, associate producer Lou Morheim bought the rights to the screenplay for $250. In 2014 money, that is equivalent to less than $8,000.
In 1984 producer Walter Mirisch announced a remake of the film as part of his production deal with Universal. Walter Hill was slated to direct and Hill hoped for Robert Duvall to play the role of Chris. However, the poor performance of Hill's Streets of Fire (1984) at the US box office led to the Universal brass cancelling the project.
George Peppard was originally considered for the role of Vin played by Steve McQueen. George Peppard later went on to play Col. John 'Hannibal' Smith in The A Team (1983), the pilot episode of which was a modern day retelling of this story. Later episodes also retold the story in varying ways and in fact part of the premise of the series was based on The Magnificent Seven.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Eli Wallach and Robert Vaughn's characters are both killed in this film. In real life, however, Wallach and Vaughn were the last surviving members of the main cast. Wallach (born in 1915) is a fine example of irony, for although he played the villain and was older than all the other leads (Brad Dexter was the oldest, born in 1917, and the others were born in 1920, 1921, 1928, 1930, 1932, and Horst Buchholz, the youngest, was born in 1933), he outlived them all, except for Vaughn,
John Sturges faced a major problem during filming. The screenplay mentioned which of the Seven died, but in no order (the battle was not choreographed), and without being clear as to how. So Sturges came up with the idea to kill off the dying members of the seven in the order they had been cast, which went as follows: Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), and Britt (James Coburn). Vaughn originally lobbied against dying first (because the character was especially created for him), so Sturges came up with a new solution, and the final death sequence which appears on film went as follows: Harry Luck (Dexter) is shot while riding back into town to join the seven who were holed up in the cantina, Lee (Vaughn) is shot after killing three bandits who were holding several villagers prisoner in a farmhouse, Britt (Coburn) is shot in the chest as he prepares to throw his knife and O'Reilly (Bronson) is wounded several times before this, but finally dies after being shot in the stomach while pushing the children to safety.
It's never clearly shown just how many people each member of the Seven killed. However, if one were to look at clear cases of onscreen killings, Vin (Steve McQueen) has the most, while Harry (Brad Dexter) has only one kill.
Ironically, though Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen's characters didn't die in the film, in real life they were the first two among the "Magnificent Seven" actors to pass away. McQueen died in 1980 while Brynner in 1985.
Robert Vaugn's character was the last, among the seven, to be introduced in the film. Coincidentally, in real life, he was the last one among the seven actors who played the original "Magnificent Seven" to pass away.
Although James Coburn and Charles Bronson are not among the three surviving gunfighters in "The Magnificent Seven", they are two of only three prison camp escapees in John Sturges' next film "The Great Escape" (John Leyton, aka Willie the Tunnel King is the third).
Eli Wallach had a hand in how Calvera's death would be played out. "Make it simple", he thought. "Just let go, relax". And then it hit him: "Don't focus, just stare, and let your head role to one side." Sturges liked his idea.
Steve McQueen, who played Vin, was the first of the Magnificent Seven to have died. By coincidence, the actor who played his counterpart, Shichiroji (_Daisuke Katô_) was the first of the Seven Samurai to pass. Both Vin and Shichiroji survive their movies.