“The Magnificent Seven,” John Sturges’ version of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, “The Seven Samurai” (1954), is a successful, westernized remake, boasting a stellar cast. In fact, the movie is enjoyable as a stand-alone, even if you don’t know the Japanese classic.
Yul Brynner plays Chris, a mercenary hired to protect a Mexican farming village from its annual invasion by the bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach) and its cutthroats. The townsfolk are too weak and fearful of the bandito and his desperados to fight back.
Chris rounds up six soldiers of fortune, the coolest, toughest guys on that side of Ro Grande, to help him form a united front against the bandits.
The remaining “magnificent six” are played by Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Brad Dexter, the least known member of the cast.
Though action-driven, the film, based on William Roberts’ screenplay, emphasizes the characterization and dynamic relationships among the seven amigos.
The filmmakers are graceful and generous enough to grant each member of the team at least one or two big scenes, which displays their specialized skills and unique screen persona.
Thus, Brynner, the biggest name in the cast, is doing most of the talking, while McQueen and Coburn are largely silent, their acting relying on their strong screen presence.
As expected, the tale is replete with ritualistic behavior. Thus, in one crucial scene, leaders Chris and Vin force the White hostile racial community to accept the Indian for burial.
Elmer Bernstein’s unforgettable theme music, which was deservedly nominated for an Oscar, was later immortalized as the “Marlboro Man” motif in the popular cigarette commercial.
Most suitable for this kind of material, John Sturges was a good craftsman, as he showed in “Bad day at Black Rock,” made in 1955, and especially the cult favorite, “The Great Escape,” in 1963, with some of the actors of “Magnificent Seven.”
“The Magnificent Seven” was such as smash hit at the box-office that it was followed by three sequels and numerous imitations, all pale compared to the original.
The movie catapulted Steve McQueen to major stardom, a position he would hold for most of the 1960s and early 1970s; he died at age 50 in 1980.
Fun Facts Behind the Scene:
Eli Wallach later recalled that during the funeral-scene where Brynner and McQueen characters first meet Brynner was furious at McQueen’s shotgun-round-shake, which diverted the attention to McQueen. The insecure Brynner also refused to draw his gun in the same scene with McQueen, fearing of being outdrawn by the rising star.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Score (Drama or Comedy): Elmer Bernstein
Oscar Awards: None
The winner of the Best Scoring Oscar was Ernest Gold for Preminger’s epic, “Exodus.”
Chris (Yul Brynner)
Calvera (Eli Wallach)
Vin (Steve McQueen)
Chico (Horst Bucholtz)
O’Reilly (Charles Bronson)
Lee (Robert Vaughn)
Harry Luck (Brad Dexter)
Britt (James Coburn)
Old Man (Valdimir Sokoloff)
Petra (Rosenda Monteros)
Produced and directed by John Sturges
Screenplay: William Roberts, Walter Newman, Walter Bernstein, based on Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai
Camera: Charles Lang
Editor: Ferris Webster
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Art Direction: Edward Fitzgerald
F/X: Milt Rice
Running time: 128 Minutes