So far, So good
The Man Who Would Be King
A Memoir of Father and Son
by Rock Brynner
"Dad, who's going to play the other cowboys in MAG SEVEN?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Well, I heard you say you were still looking, and there's this guy on TV
who's really cool. He carries a sawed-off shotgun, and - I don't know, he's
kind of like a teenager. His name is Steve McQueen. He'd be really good.
He's already starred in one movie: THE BLOB...
"Your father's got exactly the right idea, Rock," McQueen said to me one
afternoon on location outside Cuernavaca. Then he paused. "Perfectionism...
you dad's perfectionism is legendary. Just learn to do one thing better than
anyone else, doesn't matter if it's Ping-Pong or drawing a six-shooter real
fast. Work to be best. Oh, you'll lose plenty of friends that way. Like Yul
says, 'So, I won't win the Nice Guy of the Year award.' Anyway, I heard
you'd seen me on TV, and put in a plug with your dad. I just wanted to thank
you. You've got quite some father, Rock." And he paused again it occurred to
me that my dad was a hero to my own cowboy hero. "He's gonna be a tough ol'
man for you to live up to, all right." I didn't need Steve McQueen to tell
me that. " 'Specially if he ever gets mean to you. He's real
Preparations continued for a sequel to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN called RETURN
OF THE SEVEN. When Yul had first hired Steve McQueen for the original film,
McQueen had promised, informally, to appear in any sequel. But when Yul sent
him the script to RETURN, McQueen's agent went back on Steve's word on his
behalf. My cowboy hero had backed out on his word, and the little faith I
had left in heroes was shatttered. Yul had half expected him to fink out,
and went about finding a whole new cast for the sequel...
In the spring of 1966, Yul went to Alicante, Spain, to shoot RETURN OF THE
SEVEN. The cast was a bunch of young, interesting men, who, everyone
assumed, would soon be as famous as Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and
James Coburn ever were - they were Bob Fuller, Claude Akins, and Warren
Oates. There was no obvious reason why this could not be as good a film as
the original - indeed, so much had been learned on the first film that the
second should have surpassed it. The fact that it was shot in Spain instead
of Mexico need not have made much difference. There was the great Emilio
Fernandez as the bandido this time. The director, Burt Kennedy, was no
slouch. Why then did it have a cut-rate feel about it? It was as if an idea
that had proven itself was now exploiting itself...
One day a plump, beared customer in dirty jeans and dark shades came up to
me in the sushi bar. He looked like a low-rent biker. "Are you Rocky, Yul
Brynner's kid?" he asked, and when I nodded cautiously, he removed his
shades. It was Steve McQueen.
In words that I can barely remember, he said he's always meant to stop by
this roadside shack. Recently THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN had been shown on
television, and a carpenter working on his house mentioned to him that I
worked at this sushi bar - that was why he was stopping by. Trying my best
to ignore his appearance, I sat down with him at a table. He explained that
by disguising himself as an ugly biker type he was free to move about
publicly, the way ordinary folk do. I tried to picture Yul doing that. Then
McQueen told me he'd been reviewing his life carefully for some months. "Yul
and I fell out over some stupid thing, a couple of years after we made that
movie." He paused. "I don't remember. Maybe it was something in the press.
Or the plans to make a sequel. We had an argument about The Deal. I'm sure
he doesn't remember exactly either, it was such a trivial thing." McQueen
was wrong; Yul remembered perfectly.
"Anyway, I stopped by so's to ask you to give him a message, next time you
speak to him." He paused, but this was a different kind of pause. It was
difficult for him to say what he had to say. And yet during the several
seconds that he paused, it was obvious that something had happened,
something had changed inside his soul.
"Ask Yul to forgive me. I was always very grateful for what he did. He
transformed my career and, with it, my life. Then we had some stupid
argument because I wouldn't appear in RETURN OF THE SEVEN, and I never saw
him again. Well, I came here today to ask you to give Yul a message. Tell
him I did wrong, and I'm sorry for it. I never stopped feeling bad about it,
because there's no doubt, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN was the film that made me a
star. And I never did forget that, or forget him."
I promised to give Yul the message, mentioning that Dad and I didn't talk
much. I was going to say something about how unwell he looked, but then he
might reasonably have asked what the hell I was doing working as a
short-order cook. So I just told him that he'd been a real hero to me.
"I remember, Rock. You first suggested me to your father, because you were a
fan of my TV show. I never forgot you either, all the time I was a star."
"But you're still a star," I objected. Steve McQueen didn't need me to tell
him that. Then I was called back in to the office to finish the accounts,
and we said good-bye. A few months later, Steve McQueen was dead.”
The Magnificent Seven (United
Artists) suggests that, after many a disappointment with Hollywood and
television westerns, U.S. reviewers and distributors are so saddle-sore and
range-blind that they cannot tell a ring-tailed snorter from a bucket-foot
mule. Seven is not a great
picture—not nearly as good as the Japanese Magnificent
Seven (TIME, Dec. 10, 1956), the brilliant episode of chivalry,
directed by Japan’s Akira (Rashomon)
Kurosawa, from which it is adapted. Nevertheless, it is the best western
released so far in 1960, a skilful, exciting, and occasionally profound
contemplation of the life of violence.
In the Hollywood
version of the Kurosawa story, the seven samurai become seven Texas gunmen (Yul
Brynner, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn, Charles Bronson,
Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter). One day, Bravo Brynner is approached by some
Mexican farmers who offer him everything they have if he will protect their
village from a bandit chieftain (Eli Wallach). Unexpectedly moved, he
accepts their minuscule fee, recruits the other six, and together they ride
out on their errand of mercy...