Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Magnificent Seven

"The Magnificent Seven" (John Sturges, 1960) Sturges' remake of Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" as a Western with cowboys (more accurately gun-slingers) is a rousing crowd-pleaser (while maintianing the original's resigned tone) not only due to Kurosawa's indestructible original tale, but also the charismatic cluster of stars vying for screen-time with "The King" himself, Yul Brynner.* Steve McQueen, coming off the "Wanted: Dead or Alive" series was particularly shameless about trying to grab the spotlight from Brynner. "It doesn't bother me," the older actor would tell the director. "All I have to do is take off my hat."

This time it's a Mexican village being annually robbed by bandito's led by
Eli Wallach that cause a trio of farmers to go searching for "gun-fighters" to take on the bandits. One by one, the odd troupe are assembled including up-and-coming stars McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter and Horst Bucholz,** all down on their luck and taking on the job until something better comes along. Momentum is kept up by some sharp writing, but also by a rousing Copland-esque score by Elmer Bernstein*** that manages to goose the action up several notches from how it's paced on screen.

The transition (and translation) from Japan to Mexico is flawless, and just as the Samurai have their distinct characteristics, so, too, do the gunfighters--only Horst Bucholz, given an outlandish billing in retrospect, fails to rise to the potential of the others. The genius of the film is Kurosawa's, but this Americanized version still has its own unique charms, enough to make "The Magnificent 7" a huge success in its own right. A few years later, the same tack was used to create a westernized version of Kurosawa's "
Yojimbo,"**** and launched the "Spaghetti Western" and the career of its chief architect, Sergio Leone.

* Brynner cut such a fine figure as a gunslinger (despite his Russian heritage) that he came back for the sequel "The Return of the Seven," and was the emblematic robot shootist in "Westworld" and its sequel "Futureworld."

** The closest I could come to finding a movie that had so many future stars (and Brad Dexter) in it is Francis Coppola's "The Outsiders.

*** Bernstein's theme became known as "The Marlboro Theme" because it was used as the background music for that brand's (now extinct) cigarette commercials. The prolific Bernstein (no relation to Leonard) only won one Oscar for his music--for the musical score to "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

**** That would be "A Fistful of Dollars," starring Clint Eastwood.

1 comment:

Walaka said...

One of my all-time favorite movies.

Hey, what's up with Brad Dexter, anyway? IMDB says he was in an episode of McQueen's Wanted: DoA, and after M7 he was in Taras Bulba, again with Brynner. Was this some sort of rat-packy thing? Why didn't Brad hit it big? Was it just because his character was the least likeable of the seven?

Is there an alternate universe where Brad Dexter had a string of hit action films and then played the patriarch of an eccentric but loveable family on a sitcom, making frequent appearances on Leno and Letterman and becoming spokesman for a mortgage company?