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Thursday, July 09, 2009


After not having seen in it since I was a kid I finally made up my mind to sit through 1960's THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, the first and quite literal "westernization" of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 masterpiece SEVEN SAMURAI, and while it's pretty good for what it is I definitely feel it's a textbook case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Is it just me, or does this look like a setup enacted by every kid who ever owned a number of old school G.I. Joe dolls or Johnny West toys?

Taking the basic plot of Kurosawa's original — a put-upon peasant village gets fed up with periodic raids from bandit scumbags and hires a team of skilled warriors, plus one aspiring tag-along, to handle their problem — and transplanting it to Mexico during the Wild West days, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN provided iconic western thrills with a terrific cast, but I wonder how well the film would have been remembered if not for that element. If not for the sheer awesomeness of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson and the rest, this would, in my opinion anyway, register as a very much by the numbers oater, dripping with many of the hokey touches that make many westerns of the period a bit of a chore for me to take. There's a lighter-than-appropriate tone to the material here that may just be the result of its Americanization, but I found much of the film far too "cute" for my tastes. And if I had to hear the downright oppressive theme tune one more time, I swear I was going to scream.

The cast does a terrific job and the enemy force is given more of a face than the ever-looming bandits in Kurosawa's version thanks to Eli Wallach in a Mexican role that presages his indelible Tuco Ramirez from Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), but the whole thing reminded me of a modern-day Americanization of a foreign film insomuch as it severed a story from its indigenous roots, largely did away with the source's nuances, and slapped some red, white and blue on it in an attempt to make it less "foreign" or "remote" to an audience the distributors felt may not have given a chance had it played with subtitles or foreign faces. I can understand such thinking when THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN came out, since foreign films mostly ran in obscure "art" cinemas (which hasn't really changed all that much just shy of fifty years later) and the average American moviegoer of the time would have most likely balked at subtitles, but having seen SEVEN SAMURAI, I genuinely fail to see the need for this movie or any of the subsequent films that cribbed from Kurosawa's template, including the first of Sergio Leone's Clint Eastwood "Dollars Trilogy" classics, A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964).

I'm also greatly saddened by American filmgoers who love this film yet remain completely unwilling to see the vastly superior film that made THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN possible. There's a reason why SEVEN SAMURAI is universally hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made by any director in any country, and the story's appeal has nothing whatsoever to do with it being Japanese in origin. If THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN had been crafted with the same level of acting, scripting, direction, cinematography, and just about every other element of filmmaking I would not be writing this now. Again, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is in no way a bad movie, but why bother with John Sturges (who made a number of good films) when you have Akira Kurosawa at his very best? I do like westerns but I'm not rabid over them and the ones I genuinely love number less than twenty, and this film doesn't even come close to those in my estimation, so maybe it's just me.


Jared said...

It is just you and your love for Japanese movies. Not that I think "The Magnificent Seven" is great but I've always found "The Seven Samurai" to be wildly overrated. Not a bad movie but hardly any more interesting than a standard western. And how come it's okay for a Japanese movies to pander to Japanese audiences but not okay for American movies to do the same? At least you often complain when American movies do but I have yet to hear a complaint when Japanese movies do. I think you just like the cheesy monster, goofy violent, bizarre, Japanese pandering better.

Satyrblade said...

Actually, Kurosawa's Yojimbo was inspired by Dashell Hammet's novel Red Harvest - a book adapted, with varying twists and angles, as Yojimbo, A Fistfull of Dollars, Last Man Standing, Miller's Crossing, The Quick and the Dead and Sukiaki Western Django, among others. Many of these "adaptations" owe more to previous adaptations than to the source novel itself. Kurosawa's collaborators, however, credited Red Harvest as the cornerstone of Yojimbo.

Bunche said...

RED HARVEST, eh? That's news to me and now I'll have to track it down. Whenever I'd read about the making of YOJIMBO I'd never come across mention of the Hammett book, but in checking before I posted this I found it. I've only previously heard of YOJIMBO's impact and how it inspired many subsequent movies, so I guess Hammett was glossed over due to Kurosawa's popularity. Thanks for the info!

Satyrblade said...


And yeah - Yojimbo was the bigger influence by far. I doubt many of the other filmmakers had ever read Dashell Hammett - except, understandably, for Walter Hill. When Last Man Standing came out, I'd read that he'd wanted to back to the original source - the Hammett novel. That's how I'd learned about Red Harvest in the first place.