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The Magnificent Seven

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen
Director: John Sturges
Rated: NR
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: October 1960
Genres: Action, Suspense, Western


*Also starring: Eli Wallach, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter



Review by Dragan Antulov
2 stars out of 4

In former Yugoslavia, generally speaking, the best or the most popular television shows were produced by Serbian state television. However, there were shows produced by other republics' studios that successfully competed with Belgrade television. SMOGOVCI, children's show about Zagreb family, produced by Croatian television, was one of such examples, which turned into the most popular and longest running television series in these areas. Secret of its success, together with good script and acting, was clever use of pop culture references. Among them, the most obvious one was musical theme used in the show's opening credits - "borrowed" by Elmer Bernstein. The theme, which is now always associated with the genre of western thanks to Marlborough commercials, was written for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, 1960 film by John Sturges and one of the most popular westerns of all time.

The plot of the film isn't original, since THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN happens to be the remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, 1954 classic by great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. The characters and situations are mostly the same, but the setting is different. First we are introduced to a Mexican village, populated by simple but hard-working farmers. Fruits of their labour are, however, always being taken away by the large group of bandits led by Calvera (played by Eli Wallach) which comes every year. After the latest visit, the villagers had enough and desperately want to get rid of such menace. But, since they lack weapons and skills to resist the bandits, village leaders ask the Old Man (played by Vladimir Sokoloff) for an advice. He tells them to gather the every coin and other precious belongings they still have in the village and head across US border in order to hire gunslingers. They follow his advice and stumble upon a man who fits their criteria - Chris Adams (played by Yul Brynner), efficient gunslinger who is noble enough to accept their job offer. He quickly begins assembling his team, whose members agree to follow him for reasons different than money, since the pay is low. Chico (played by Horst Buchholz), the youngest of them, is not gunfighter at all, and wants to follow the group only to learn their deadly trade. The group - now numbering seven - arrives in the village and starts preparing for the inevitable showdown.

Remaking the indisputable classics like SEVEN SAMURAI is always rather thankless job for the filmmakers. However, four decades ago Hollywood was still able to produce at least decent remakes. In this case, John Sturges, very experienced director of classic westerns, didn't bother to add anything significantly new to Kurosawa's plot and the script by William Roberts and William Bernstein is very faithful to original when it comes to characters and situations. Those who had watched Kurosawa's version would experience a lot of deja vus when they watch THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but Sturges found a way to compensate the lack of originality by using resources Kurosawa had not. First of all, Sturges is using colour photography, as well as exotic Mexican locations with impressive scenery and local folklore. Then, there is aforementioned music by Elmer Bernstein. Finally, length of the film is drastically trimmed (two hours compared to 200 minutes in Kurosawa's original cut) and the cast is more acceptable to the average Western audience.

The ensemble cast of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN didn't look very stellar in its time, but the actors who played the seven gunmen later became legends, mostly thanks to the big break in this film. Yul Brynner, the nominal lead, was perfect for the role of Chris Adams with his commanding presence, and the black clothes (including the hat) he wore in this film would later became one of his iconic trademarks - ironically used by the same actor in 1973 sci-fi thriller WESTWORLD. The other six members of his crew were young unknowns at the time, but each of them was memorable; the characters they played were unique, either because different motives or different character traits. Some of those actors became action legends, like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Some never became top stars but instead earned reputation of respected character actors, like James Coburn and Robert Vaughn (the latter one actually reprised his role in BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, 1980 science fiction remake). Some never used this big break, like Brad Dexter who would later sink into obscurity. Buchholz, who had the hardest job by playing role already immortalised by Toshiro Mifune, actually did his part well, and although he didn't become big Hollywood star, this moment in his career foreshadowed his future successes in Europe. Eli Wallach as Mexican bandit did his part also well, but his character wasn't fleshed out enough in the script; on the other hand, his performance foreshadows the immortal role of Tuco in Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

The performances in this film are very good, and shootouts and action scenes were also exciting and well directed. But, on the other hand, film still lacks texture and at times seems too preachy compared with Kurosawa's original. Some of the situations are even melodramatic and somewhat predictable. Sturges did his job very well, but he still couldn't escape the shadow of Kurosawa. But, on the other hand, remaking SEVEN SAMURAI was justified, and three more versions, as well as popular TV show, are the proof this plot's universality. And, despite the flaws, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN earned its reputation of the essential western classic.

Copyright 1999 Dragan Antulov

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