We Deal In Lead Friend: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

To call The Magnificent Seven a remake of Seven Samurai is not to correctly identify the type of film it exists as, particularly in its considerable reappropriation of the samurai motifs of the film in order to affect genre tropes of the Western.  Instead, I like the notion, that some people have applied to this film, as being an "Americanization" of The Magnificent Seven, one that stages and executes itself with clear similarities to the original, but making notable changes to the narrative and theatrics of the film in order to better examine themes and concepts within the fictional setting.  I am not literate enough in Japanese film to say with any certainty as to the degree of stardom associated with each of the actors playing the seven samurai in the Kurosawa film, but a considerable amount of the gunmen in The Magnificent Seven were either well established actors at the time, or would go on to build respectable careers.  The film includes some of the following actors, as some may not get mentioned in the plot synopsis: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach and Robert Vaughn as well as a handful of other notable performers.  Cement this already excellent cast and respectable remake with the attachment of John Sturges and you have a near-perfect film and a masterpiece of the Western genre.  I would venture to bet that some of the bombastic cinematic excitement of the initial viewing fades after rewatching, but I was astounded, this being my first viewing of this classic, by the sheer commitment to the film on all accounts.  While it is certainly no Sergio Leone western and fails to gather the magnitude of a John Wayne driven film, The Magnificent Seven is an honest adaptation of a cinematic gem, done with such care and compassion that it has earned its own place, deservedly, within the pantheon of great cinematic works.  A film like this represents a time in Hollywood where actors would jump at the opportunity to perform together, claiming a higher place on artistic output than on monetary compensation and while this certainly occurs in contemporary cinema, it does not have near the earnest appeal as this half-century old work manages to still exude.

The Magnificent Seven, much like its inspiration, finds it setting in a rural village, in this case on the Mexican border.  The locals, also, peasants farmers, continually suffer from victimization and oppression by a group of bandits who demand their food and money as a means of survival.  After the death of a villager who attempts to stand up to the bandits, the town decides it is due time to confront the bandits, a task that requires them to hire outside help, because they are simply outnumbered, as well as inept at using weaponry, particularly firearms.  In comes the principled hired gun Larabee (Yul Brynner) who agrees to take the considerably low amount of pay simply as a result of doing the right thing.  He decides that the task will require a set of expert gunmen, and one guy who is profusely good at throwing knives, however, the obtaining of an agreeable party proves rather tedious, particularly considering that most of the men refuse to help for such low pay and lack of other forms of pay off.  Furthermore, Larabee finds difficulty with a particular recruit, a young man who is a bit of a hothead and drunkard that, nonetheless, greatly wants to join in the fight.  After some testing and prodding, a group of seven is assembled and they undertake the task of training and prepping the villagers for the next encounter with the bandits.  At first the job seems hopeless, particularly when the villagers cower to the bandits and allow them into the village to upset carefully laid traps and storage facilities.  Eventually, however, the group becomes attached to the village, one man finding happiness interacting with the youth, while another seeks solace by taking a lover.  Even Larabee seems to find solace in  the simple ways of the villagers and the lack of concern for where his next meal may come.  Battle does ensue though and many of the men are lost, only leaving three in the end, one who decides to stay and build a life with a young woman he has fallen in love with, while the other two ride off into the proverbial sunset, undoubtedly, to find new adventures.

This riding off into the sunset trope is perhaps the most obvious departure from the original Japanese film, in that the three remaining samurai remain with the villagers, their lives now inextricably attached to the lifestyle.  In typical American fashion, the opposite occurs with The Magnificent Seven, everyone is a loner, except in the moment of fighting against an oppressive force of evil.  In this way, the film plays out much like a Hollywood war film, in which you have a diverse group of men coalescing on an agreed moral action, only to disperse after its completion.  As opposed to the Japanese film in which honor is a latent ideology that always and at once unifies the masculine group, to break such a code would have fatal results.  Self-sacrifice seems inherent within the Japanese context, while it is almost used as a form of pity within the American version.  Of course that is not to say that the film is to be condemned for such actions, after all the group did vanquish an evil oppressive group of thieves.  Yet, it is particularly interesting to consider that the film does not necessarily chastise the bandits, going so far as to suggest that their own hunger drives them to act in such problematic ways.  Another observation of note with this American version is that masculinity is a point of contention between certain figures in the group, particularly the hot-headed youth who seems set on proving his worth in the group constantly seeking to engage in a pissing contest with whoever will humor his requests.  Incidentally, it is no coincidence that he is the one who settles down with a woman, offering him a clear vantage point to assert his male power.  Some of these elements are also nonexistent in the Japanese original, yet it has been years since I have seen Seven Samurai so the possibility of incorrect memory is highly probable.

Key Scene:  While it is only title cards and an incredible score, I cannot recall a film in recent memory whose opening credits have managed to set a mood quite like The Magnificent Seven.

This is an awesome movie one well worth watching with a few drinks and some friends.  Owning it does not seem necessary, but I may recant that statement at some point, however, make sure to rent the bluray it really pops off the screen.

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