Monday, November 23, 2009

"The Magnificent Seven" (1960) For Those Times When Five or Six Gunfighters Just Won't Cut It

John Sturges' 1960 Western "The Magnificent Seven" remains one of the most popular westerns ever made --spawning two sequels and a television series.  None of them capture the intensity or dramatic impact of this film. The story is simple--seven disparate gunfighters are all down on their luck.  Into a border town come three Mexican peasants looking for men with experience in gun-fighting  to save their village from being plundered and terrorized by a bandit and his pack of parasites.   One by one the gunfighters agree to ride to the village and  save the destitute farmers.     
The film helped make stars of Steve Mc Queen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and contributed to the later international stardom of Charles
 Bronson.  The film score by Elmer Bernstein is a classic as well.  Bernstein studied with the master composer Aaron Copland and he does his old teacher proud here.  



 Both this film and Akira Kurosawa's classic original "Seven Samurai" (1954)   raise the issue of why men will take up a cause that offers such little reward.  In Kurosawa's original the samurais are men facing the collapse  of feudal Japan in the late 16th Century.  Their leader fights because of honor; others fight because the farmers can offer food; some of them fight simply because this is their profession, or out of loyalty to their leader. 

The theme of a lone man coming into a small town on the edge of civilization and taming the bad guys, then riding off into the sunset is a standard Western theme.  It was one that Kurosawa--a fan of the films of Western director John Ford--took the main part of and added the code of the samurai  to create a masterpiece that introduced Torshiro Mifuni to Western audiences.  
(Here's a compilation of the 1960 film put together by Austinmillbarge22 from You Tube.) 


 


The gunmen in the  Sturges' Western are not members of any feudal class, but they are men of a dying breed, facing the fallout from  the taming of the West.  This, to me,  is the end of America's Homeric "Age of Heroes" in popular culture .  This Western was a big-budget , big screen  "last hurrah" before the bad news from the War in Vietnam changed the zeitgeist of the country.    Only John Wayne could make Westerns like this after the 1960's came to maturity--and Wayne's films  became increasingly anachronistic and stilted.  


The American version of this story seems to take place in the railroad-dominated West of the 1890s: those wide-open frontier towns that needed gunmen to keep the peace between the cow punchers and the hot-head gamblers are rapidly being tamed.  

Like the Samurai, their way of life is at an end.  The irony of the American film is that many critics and film-makers today see The Magnificent Seven as the last real American Western before television shows like "Bonanza" and "Rawhide" and their inferior cousins added to the glut of Western shows and  killed popular interest in the genre. Another factor was the rise of the ultra nihilist and violent "Spaghetti Westerns" of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone changed the genre forever. 

When Akira Kurosawa saw the 1960 remake of his masterpiece, he sent a gift to John Sturges in appreciation--a ceremonial Japanese sword.  

30 comments:

  1. This was the most cool thing ever.

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  2. One of the first movies I saw. It was magic. Remains to be magic.

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  3. Here's the trailer for the original film:

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  4. And, of course, the Legos Version of the film, which is perhaps the greatest tribute in modern film today.

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  5. Seen this too. But prefer the Hollywood version/

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  6. I have seen this movie on the television several time and Doug I would have never know this.
    Most interesting. The western was one of the best old films that I have ever watch. I kid you not.

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  7. Yes, me too. This film is incredible, too, but its also a bit too long

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  8. So true Jack. The casting is close to perfect, and their are no lulls in this one.

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  9. Perhaps this is why Coburn really took to reading and practicing the japanese and chinese cultures...

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  10. One of the great things about DVD releases of older films like this is that you can get a lot of documentary material on a film in one package. I think having actors and directors and critics being able to comment on the run as its being seen--through multiple audio tracks--is one of the best innovations ever.

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  11. I hadn't thought of that, Jack, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was taken by the background of the film to learn more. He incorporated some of that in his later films as I recall. He was also a friend of Bruce Lee.

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  12. Mc Queen's speech about the isolation of the gun-fighting trade at the opening of the film clip above is also great stuff.

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  13. Yeah well I am off to bed here and all the best over there Doug.

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  14. I will come back tomorrow night all the best...

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  15. I have the "Seven Samurai" and I enjoyed it immensely. With the version I have there was the need to cope with subtitles while listening to the rather sing song Japanese language. They also rattle off everything very fast. I would recommend it to anyone who has seen the Magnificent Seven.

    The contrast with The American version of the Magnificent Seven was the dignified strutting of Yule Brenner, who looked to me definitely a man to take control right from the start. How could anything go wrong with him in charge. Why, wouldn't you even trust him to operate on your appendix? Ahem, maybe I have gone too far there, but he seemed to know what he was doing. Steve Mc Queen wasn't to be messed with, but he was the same in the Great Escape and I dare say in real life!

    I like the way the film builds up the story with finding men who have guts but aren't going to lose it in the fray.

    Thanks for the reminder, Doug.

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  16. This is true, with the DVDs one can get a lot of background into the making of the film and it's all very interesting.

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  17. I loved this Frank, but then I have an interest in world movies. I've watched it several times and found it amazing. Thanks for the clip.

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  18. Once again you brought back memories. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this film. Just watching the trailer and hearing the theme music. It also had one of the greatest lines ever. WOw what a great shot? No it wasn't I was aiming for the horse. Classic!
    Thank you for reminding me again of another great movie.

    I have never seen the Japanese version.

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  19. The Japanese film is also a classic, I saw it again recently and I still get chills at that finale in the rain when the bandits come for their last charge against the surviving few Samurai. Kurosawa was a master director. His photographer was a genius on those black and white films.

    Kurosawa made a number of great films--oddly his reputation abroad is better than it was in Japan, where films like this were critisized by some for being "too Western." There are a few of his films I still need to see---like his take on Shakespeare's "Macbeth", "Throne of Blood" (1957). Many of his later films like "Ran" (a version of "King Lear") were produced by American producers/directors Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, or they wouldn't have been made.

    The romantic subplot in the Japanese version is better developed I think. In the American version, the young Samurai doesn't get married to his beloved. Its more poignant than the Western version, where Horst Bucholz and the Mexican lady seem on the way to the altar.

    Yul Brenner really is a presence isn't he? Reportedly he and Steve McQueen didn't hit it off so well because both men were highly competitive. McQueen was even worried that Yul had a bigger revolver than he had for the shoot-out scenes, which is pretty funny and a bit Freudian. I'm sure Brenner would have gladly taken his younger co-star's appendix out for him (and any other organs) at practically no charge.

    And, true, everything I've read about McQueen was that the former fatherless reform school kid and Marine could probably have been some of the tough characters he played in real life. His motorcycle chase in "The Great Escape" is iconical! Good actor, too, incidentally.

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  20. I think you should see that one, Fred. It's a bit long, but a must-see. I love Coburn's line about the horse too. He's perfect for that part.


    Glad you enjoy this one as much as me.

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  21. As Doug said, do see it if you get a chance. Like the American version, it's also a good film.

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  22. As Doug said, do see it if you get a chance. Like the American version, it's also a good film.

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  23. Sorry I deleted Doug. I forgot to tick the reply box. :-)

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  24. No problem Cassandra--thanks to you and everybody else who stopped by.

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  25. A good eve there Doug, and yeah it's ironic as Coburn was very influenced by Lee and Lee's idol and friend was McQueen. But when I read this last night I was thinking of how Coburn came to being very involved in the Japanese and Asian philosphies especially.

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  26. Something I will like to know as well--I have to look into that one , Jack.

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  27. Each time you bring something up it's captivating Doug....
    Lastly a Happy Thanksgiving eve there to ya.

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