The Magnificent Seven
The Magnificent Seven is a 1960 American Western film directed by John Sturges and starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn and Horst Buchholz. The film is an Old West–style remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai. Brynner, McQueen, Bronson, Vaughn, Dexter, Coburn and Buchholz portray the title characters, a group of seven gunfighters hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of marauding bandits (whose leader is played by Wallach). The film's musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein. In 2013, the film was selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
|The Magnificent Seven|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||John Sturges|
|Based on||Seven Samurai|
by Akira Kurosawa
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||Ferris Webster|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$2,250,000 (rentals)|
A gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) periodically raids a poor Mexican village for food and supplies. After the latest raid, during which Calvera kills a villager, the village leaders decide they have had enough. On the advice of the village elder (Vladimir Sokoloff), they decide to fight back. Taking their few objects of value, three villagers ride to a town just inside the United States border hoping to barter for weapons. They are impressed by Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), a veteran Cajun gunslinger, and approach him for advice. Chris suggests they instead hire gunfighters to defend the village, as "men are cheaper than guns." At first agreeing only to help them recruit men, Chris eventually decides to lead the group. Despite the meager pay offered, he finds five willing gunmen.
They are the gunfighter Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), who has gone broke after a round of gambling and resists local efforts to recruit him as a store clerk; Chris's friend Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), who assumes Chris is hiding a much bigger reward for the work; the Irish Mexican Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), who has fallen on hard times; Britt (James Coburn), an expert in both knife and gun who joins purely for the challenge involved; and the dapper, on-the-run gunman Lee (Robert Vaughn), plagued by nightmares of fallen enemies and haunted that he has lost his nerve for battle. On their way to the village they are trailed by the hotheaded Chico (Horst Buchholz), an aspiring gunfighter whose previous attempts to join Chris had been spurned. Impressed by his persistence, Chris invites him into the group.
Arriving at the village, they work with the villagers to build fortifications and train them to defend themselves. They note the lack of women in the village, until Chico stumbles upon Petra (Rosenda Monteros) and discovers the women were hidden in fear that the gunmen will rape them. The gunmen begin to bond with the villagers, and Petra pursues Chico. When Bernardo points out that the gunmen are being given the choice food, the gunmen share it with the village children.
Three of Calvera's men are dispatched to reconnoiter the village; the seven kill all three. Then Calvera and his bandits arrive in force. The seven and the villagers kill another eight of their cohort in a shootout and run them out of town. The villagers celebrate, believing Calvera will not return. But Chico infiltrates Calvera's camp and learns that Calvera must return, as his men are short of food.
Some fearful villagers thereupon call for the gunfighters to leave. Even some of the seven waver, but Chris insists that they stay, even threatening to kill anyone who suggests giving up the fight. The seven ride out to make a surprise raid on Calvera's camp, but find it abandoned. Returning to the village, they are caught by Calvera and his men, who colluded with some of the villagers to sneak in and take control. Calvera spares the seven's lives, believing they have learned the simple farmers are not worth fighting for, and fearing reprisals from the gunfighters' "friends" across the border. Preparing to depart, Chris and Vin admit they have become emotionally attached to the village. Bernardo likewise gets angry when the boys he befriended call their parents cowards. Chico declares that he hates the villagers; when Chris points out he grew up as a farmer as well, Chico angrily responds that it is men like Calvera and Chris who made the villagers what they are.
The seven gunmen are escorted some distance from the village, where their weapons are returned to them. They debate their next move and all but Harry, who believes the effort will be futile and suicidal, agree to return and fight.
The gunmen infiltrate the village and a gunfight breaks out. Harry, who has had a change of heart, returns in time to save Chris's life, but is himself fatally shot. Harry pleads to know what they were fighting for, and Chris lies about a hidden gold mine to let Harry believe he died for a fortune. Lee finds the nerve to burst into a house where several villagers are being held, shooting their captors and releasing the prisoners to join the fight, but is gunned down as he leaves the house. Bernardo, shot protecting the boys he befriended, tells them as he dies to see how bravely their fathers fought. Britt dies after shooting at many bandits but exposing himself from cover. Chris shoots Calvera, who asks him, "You came back... to a place like this? Why? A man like you? Why?" He dies without receiving an answer. The remaining bandits take flight.
The three surviving gunmen ride out of town. As they stop atop a hill overlooking the village, Chico parts company with them, realizing he wants to stay with Petra. Chris and Vin bid farewell to the village elder, who tells them that only the villagers have really won, whereas the gunslingers are "like the wind, blowing over the land and passing on." As they pass the graves of their fallen comrades, Chris admits, "The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We'll always lose."
Yul Brynner approached producer Walter Mirisch with the idea of remaking Kurosawa's famous samurai film. But once Mirisch had acquired the rights from Japan's Toho Studios, and finalized a distribution deal with United Artists, Brynner was sued for breach of contract by actor Anthony Quinn, who claimed that he and Brynner had developed the concept together and had worked out many of the film's details before the two had a falling-out. Quinn ultimately lost his claim, because there was nothing in writing.
Script credit was a subject of contention. Associate producer Lou Morheim commissioned Walter Bernstein, a blacklisted scriptwriter, to produce the first draft "faithfully" adapted from the original script written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni and Akira Kurosawa; when executive producer Walter Mirisch and Brynner took over the production, they brought on Walter Newman, whose version "is largely what's on screen." When Newman was unavailable to be on-site during the film's principal photography in Mexico, William Roberts was hired, in part to make changes required by Mexican censors. When Roberts asked the Writers Guild of America for a co-credit, Newman asked that his name be removed from the credits.
Sturges was eager to cast Steve McQueen in the picture, having just worked with him on the 1959 film Never So Few, but McQueen could not get a release from actor/producer Dick Powell, who controlled McQueen's hit TV series Wanted Dead or Alive. On the advice of his agent, McQueen, an experienced race car driver, staged a car accident and claimed that he could not work on his series because he had suffered a whiplash injury and had to wear a neck brace. During the interval required for his "recuperation", he was free to appear in The Magnificent Seven.
James Coburn was a great fan of the Japanese film Seven Samurai, having seen it 15 times, and was hired through the help of co-star and former classmate Robert Vaughn, after the role of the expert knifethrower had been rejected by actors Sterling Hayden and John Ireland.
The film was shot by cinematographer Charles Lang in a 35mm anamorphic format using Panavision lens. Location shooting began on March 1, 1960, in Mexico, where both the village and the U.S. border town were built for the film. The location filming was in Cuernavaca, Durango, and Tepoztlán and at the Churubusco Studios. The first scenes were the first part of the six gunfighters' journey to the Mexican village prior to Chico being brought into the group.
During filming there was considerable tension between Brynner and McQueen, who was displeased at his character having only seven lines of dialogue in the original shooting script (Sturges had told McQueen that he would "give him the camera"). To compensate, McQueen took numerous opportunities to upstage Brynner and draw attention to himself, including shielding his eyes with his hat, flipping a coin during one of Brynner's speeches, rattling his shotgun shells, and hanging low from his horse to drink from a stream. Brynner, who was only half an inch taller than McQueen, would often build up a little mound of earth to stand on when the two actors were on camera together, only to have McQueen surreptitiously kick the dirt out of place before retakes. When newspapers started reporting on the altercations on set between the two, Brynner issued a press statement, declaring, "I never feud with actors. I feud with studios."
The film's score is by Elmer Bernstein. Along with the readily recognized main theme and effective support of the story line, the score also contains allusions to twentieth-century symphonic works, such as the reference to Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, second movement, in the tense quiet scene just before the shoot out. The original soundtrack was not released at the time until reused and rerecorded by Bernstein for the soundtrack of Return of the Seven. Electric guitar cover versions by Al Caiola in the U.S. and John Barry in the U.K. were successful on the popular charts. A vocal theme not written by Bernstein was used in a trailer.
In 1994, James Sedares conducted a re-recording of the score performed by The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, which also included a suite from Bernstein's score for The Hallelujah Trail, issued by Koch Records; Bernstein himself conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for a performance released by RCA in 1997, but the original film soundtrack was not released until the following year by Rykodisc. (Varèse Sarabande reissued this album in 2004.)
- Main Title and Calvera (3:56)
- Council (3:14)
- Quest (1:00)
- Strange Funeral/After The Brawl (6:48)
- Vin’s Luck (2:03)
- And Then There Were Two (1:45)
- Fiesta (1:11)
- Stalking (1:20)
- Worst Shot (3:02)
- The Journey (4:39)
- Toro (3:24)
- Training (1:27)
- Calvera's Return (2:37)
- Calvera Routed (1:49)
- Ambush (3:10)
- Bernardo (3:33)
- Surprise (2:08)
- Defeat (3:26)
- Crossroads (4:47)
- Harry's Mistake (2:48)
- Calvera Killed (3:33)
- Finale (3:27)
At the 33rd Academy Awards, the score was nominated for Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, losing to Ernest Gold's score for Exodus. Many decades later, however, the score for The Magnificent Seven was listed at No. 8 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 25 American film scores.
In other mediaEdit
Bernstein's score has frequently been quoted in the media and popular culture. Starting in 1963, the theme was used in commercials in the U.S. for Marlboro cigarettes for many years. A similar-sounding (but different) tune was used for Victoria Bitter beer in Australia. The theme was included in a scene of the James Bond film Moonraker.
Other uses include in the 2004 documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11; in the 2005 film The Ringer; in the 2015 film Hardcore Henry; as entrance music for the British band James, as well as episodes of The Simpsons that had a "Western" theme (mainly in the episode titled "Dude, Where's My Ranch?"). The opening horn riff in Arthur Conley's 1967 hit "Sweet Soul Music" is borrowed from the theme. Canadian band Kon Kan use the opening bars of the theme in their single "I Beg Your Pardon". Celtic Football Club (Glasgow, Scotland) used the theme music whenever Henrik Larsson scored a goal. The 2008 J-pop song "Ōgoe Diamond" by AKB48 also used part of the main theme.
The Cheers episode "Diane Chambers Day" (season 4, episode 22) revolves around the bar denizens being invited to watch The Magnificent Seven, and ends with them singing an a cappella version of the theme.
The Mick Jones 1980s band Big Audio Dynamite covered the song as "Keep off the Grass" (although this cover was not officially released). In 1995, the KLF also did a drum and bass cover of the main title as "The Magnificent"; it was released under the group alias One World Orchestra on the charity compilation The Help Album.
In 1992, the main theme of The Magnificent Seven came into use on a section of the Euro Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland Paris. Portions of the theme play as the train exits the Grand Canyon diorama tunnel behind Phantom Manor, enters Frontierland, and travels along the bank of the Rivers of the Far West.
The "Main Title" was used as an intro tune on many nights of Bruce Springsteen's 2012 Wrecking Ball Tour. The theme was played as the E Street Band entered the stage, adding to the dramatic atmosphere in the stadium.
The film opened October 12, 1960 in a thousand theaters across the South and Southwest of the United States. The film was a box office disappointment in the United States, but proved to be such a smash hit in Europe that it ultimately made a profit.
Contemporary reviews were mixed to positive. Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film a "pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original"; according to Thompson, "don't expect anything like the ice-cold suspense, the superb juxtaposition of revealing human vignettes and especially the pile-driver tempo of the first Seven." According to Variety magazine's October 5, 1960, review, "Until the women and children arrive on the scene about two-thirds of the way through, The Magnificent Seven is a rip-roaring rootin' tootin' western with lots of bite and tang and old-fashioned abandon. The last third is downhill, a long and cluttered anti-climax in which The Magnificent Seven grow slightly too magnificent for comfort." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "rough, tough, funny and splashy most of the way. There's a serious dip the final third, but Keith's newcomer offers shrewd, vastly enjoyable performances." Harrison's Reports praised the film as "A superb Western, well acted and crammed full of action, human interest, pathos, suspense, plus some romance and humor." A positive review from Charles Stinson in the Los Angeles Times praised the dialogue as "by turns, virile, rowdily funny and then, abruptly, not always predictably, it is pensive, even gentle. John Sturges' direction is superbly staccato; making a knife-sharp use of pauses and silences, it brings out both the humor and melancholy, the humanity as well as the evil inherent in the situation." The Monthly Film Bulletin called the casting of Yul Brynner and Horst Buchholz "curious" and thought Chico's decision to stay put was "the film's most completely unbelieavable contrivance," but still thought that "the film manages to be both impressive and likeable." Akira Kurosawa, for his part, was reportedly so impressed by the film that he presented John Sturges with a sword.
The film has grown greatly in esteem since its release, largely due to its cast (several of whom were to go on to become superstars over the decade following its release) and its music score. As of September 19, 2018, it has a score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes based on ratings of 41 critics. It is the second most shown film in U.S. television history, behind only The Wizard of Oz. The film is also ranked No. 79 on the AFI's list of American cinema's 100 most-thrilling films.
Sequels and adaptationsEdit
The film also inspired a television series, The Magnificent Seven, which ran from 1998 to 2000. Robert Vaughn was a recurring guest star, a judge who hires the seven to protect the town in which his widowed daughter-in-law and his grandson live.
The science fiction movie Battle Beyond the Stars was a remake of The Magnificent Seven set in space. A group of mercenaries, including ones played by George Peppard (as a character known only as "Space Cowboy") and Robert Vaughn (playing essentially the same character as in The Magnificent Seven) defend farmers from space raiders on the planet Akira (named after Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa).
The 1980s action-adventure series The A-Team was initially devised as a combination of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven. The show's pilot film plays much on the plot of The Magnificent Seven, and there are similar plot echoes in various other episodes. James Coburn was originally approached to play John "Hannibal" Smith, the team's leader, a role that ultimately went to George Peppard in the series; and Robert Vaughn was added to the cast in the final season as part of a revamp attempt to boost fading ratings.
A remake of the film, with the same title, was released on September 23, 2016, directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier and Peter Sarsgaard.
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Meyers, Richard (2001). Great Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and More. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0806520261.