Whatever happened to The Magnificent Seven?

Harry Welty

In 1966, at age 16, I discovered pop music which was then a witch’s brew of pop, country, and rock about to go their separate ways. One of my early favorites was a song by the Statler Brothers  “Flowers on the Wall.” It was about a guy who was dumped by his girlfriend. In the lyrics the fellow claims not to mind “playing solitaire alone with a deck of 51.” Seven years later, after the horrors of 1968 and Vietnam, the Statlers - now confirmed red necks - sang a new song that pined for the days of rugged cowboy heroes. I couldn’t stand it. The lyrics and chorus began:

Everybody knows 
when you go
 to the show
You can’t take the 
kids along
You’ve gotta read the paper and 
know the code
Of G, PG, R and X
You gotta know what the 
movie’s about
Before you even go
Tex Ritter’s gone and Disney’s 
dead
The screen is filled with sex.
Whatever happened to 
Randolph Scott
Ridin’ the range alone
Whatever happened to 
Gene and Tex
And Roy and Rex, the 
Durango Kid
Whatever happened to 
Randolph Scott
His horse, plain as can be
Whatever happened to 
Randolph Scott

Has happened to the best of me.
Today, I find that song’s message a lot more appealing. I’ve sat my grandson’s down to watch some of my favorite old movies. A couple days ago it was 1960’s  “The Magnificent Seven.” 
It was released to theaters when I was their age. It is an homage to a Japanese movie “The Seven Samurai.” In fact, it was a double homage. The Japanese movie was an homage to American Westerns. I liked the movie as much for its musical score by Elmer Bernstein (no relation to Leonard) as for the story, actors and fearless decency. 

When I watch oldies but goodies with the boys I’m keen to see if they enjoy them and worry that they might find them boring. Before the Magnificent Seven began the older brother asked if it was in color. Had it not been that might have been a deal breaker.
Their Grandmother has never liked Westerns. She left for church business fretting that the movie might let loose the prejudices of our childhood and infect her boys. I wasn’t so worried. I survived watching tens of thousands of dramatized murders growing up and am still fully able to weep during “Call the Midwives.” I trust that my Grandsons can handle a little political incorrectness. They saw Gary Cooper’s Beau Geste with me and I doubt they will ever confuse that movie’s rampaging Tuaregs with Isis.

As in the Japanese original a poor village is in search of heroes to protect them from bandits. In the American knock off the poor villagers hail from Mexico. At their wit’s end they cross the border to hire American gunslingers to protect them from a rapacious gang of banditos led by ‘’Calvera” (played by Eli Wallach). In a dusty Texas border town they witness Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen volunteering to drive a dead Indian to boot hill in a fancy horse drawn hearse. Some of the town’s trigger-happy toughs don’t want their cemetery sullied with a non-white corpse. 

My older grandson has a sliver of Native American in his blood line. It’s a line of descent from victims of Andrew Jackson’s forced marches to Oklahoma. I didn’t at all mind his watching Brynner and McQueen prevail in this first test of bravery. Liberal 1960’s Hollywood larded its celluloid with a heavy dose of fairness, decency and courage - all the things the Statler Brother’s bemoaned having lost. 

I find it ironic that the same folks who memorized the lyrics to “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” are the same ones who voted for Donald Trump. Trump makes Eli Wallach’s bandit Calvera look like a saint. And even Calvera, ruthless as he was, did not cross one of my generation’s red lines. Unlike President Trump the bandito was no swaggering braggart.

I don’t have a problem with myths whether they be from Greece, the Bible or Hollywood. They have their place but I prefer them when they are leavened with history. Someday I’ll tell my grandson about my side of the family and his great great grandfather who raced his daughter’s horse to death charging into Oklahoma to stake a claim in the territory that had been set aside for my Grandson’s other great-great grandfathers - the ones who were Indians. I think it was Donald Trump that opened the border up for white settlers. 

Whatever happened to Randolph Scott?

Harry Welty is a small-time politician who also pontificates at www.lincolndemocrat.com