Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

The Magnifiecnt Seven (1960)
Dir. John Sturges
Staring: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz

A Group of seven gunfighters are hired to protect a small village from a group of bandits.

The Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai is one of the greatest films of all time. It's got such a great, simple plot, and it makes sense that a U.S. studio would want to remake it for the English speaking audience. Transposing the situation from fedual Japan to the American west makes a lot of sense. There is a lot of similarities between the westerns of the era and of Japanese samurai films, as both usually feature stoic heroes working for a good cause*.

The easy thing to do is to compare it to the Seven Samurai, but that's really unfair to do it to this film. The Magnificent Seven is an hour and a half shorter than Seven Samurai. With the shorter runtime Magnificent Seven has less time to develop the characters of the town and of all seven heroes, which gives the film less depth than the original. But even with these changes, the film still works. For starters, it looks great. The movie takes full advantage of it's widescreen scope, and looks great on blu-ray.

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen are the actors that seem to get the most screen time (obviously). Brynner is great as Chris Adams, creating a role so iconic that his look was copied for his role as the evil robot in Westworld. Both men create cool characters, and McQueen's delivery of the line "We deal in lead, friend" is such a badass moment. The same can be said for James Coburn's Britt and Charles Bronson's Bernardo. Coburn doesn't get much to do  other than be cool and tough with a knife but Charles Bronson gets some scenes where he gets to bond with some children in the village, in the same way that Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo did in the original film.  Eli Wallach steals the film as the larger than life Calvera, the leader of the bandits. He's the villain, so he gets the most showy role, and he's fun in the film.

Robert Vaughn, who has the distinction of also staring in Battle Beyond the Stars, another Seven Samurai remake, gets some development as the wanted member of the seven that at first seems to be cowardly, hiding behind a corner when the bandits storm the village. But as the story progresses it's revealed that he seems to suffer from what would now be called PTSD. But due to the films run time this really doesn't get too much focus  and his arc is quickly wrapped up during the final battle when he grabs his guns and storms into the fight. But he gets off better than Brad Dexter, who's character is painted as a greedy man, who's only involved cause his thinks that there's gold nearby.

There's a general consensus that remakes are inferior to the originals, or that you shouldn't bother with them. While there are plenty of arguments for and against remakes**, but I kind of feel that this is a really good film that works on it's own. I would have no problem with saying that it one of the best American westerns ever made, and that it's an essential film.

*Well, not Sword of Doom. The lead in that is just evil. But that movie is awesome. 

**Arguments for remakes: The Thing, The Fly, Phillip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Arguments against remakes: Robocop, Clash of the Titans, Planet of the Apes (2001)

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