August 27, 2013
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Grade: 61/100

Director: John Sturges
Stars: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson

What it's about. The American version of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, remade as a Western set in Mexico. Yul Brynner takes Shimura's lead role as the commander of the Seven. His right-hand man is Steve McQueen. The important role of the inexperienced and blustery but persistent and courageous mercenary, played by Toshirô Mifune in Kurosawa's original, goes to lesser-known Horst Buchholz. He also usurps the role of Katsushiro, the manchild hero-worshiper of Samurai who conquers the village hottie.

Other members of the Seven consist of grim Charles Bronson, who is beset by children eager for him to die so that they can continually place flowers on his grave; knife expert and taciturn tough guy James Coburn, who takes Miyaguchi's role; sad-sack coward outlaw Robert Vaughn; and big Brad Dexter, who is certain that Brynner and the villagers are keeping mum about a secret stash of gold or silver.

The Seven are hired to defend a remote Mexican village against bandits led by remorseless but loquacious Eli Wallach. They do this with considerable success, until the chicken-shit villagers sell them out to Wallach. Because it is a movie, Wallach lets them leave town alive, and even returns their guns to them, and of course the Seven then return to the town for a big shoot 'em up leaving many dead on both sides.

How others will see it. In terms of quality, The Magnificent Seven is no match for its Kurosawa predecessor. However, it was stocked with present and future Hollywood moviestars, and it also helped that it was in color and in English (despite taking place in Mexico).

As a result, The Magnificent Seven was a big box office hit and led to three lesser sequels. However, it picked up only a single Oscar nomination, for its conventional Elmer Bernstein score. The film's success no doubt helped propel McQueen, Bronson, Vaughn, and Coburn into A-list stars, a rung already occupied by Brynner and Wallach.

Today, the film has a whopping 46K user votes at, and a very high user rating of 7.8. There is no consequential demographic difference regardless of age, gender, or country of origin.

Most everyone likes the movie. The exceptions are usually those familiar with the Kurosawa original, which is to the Sturges remake what Taylor Swift is to Brenda Lee.

How I felt about it. The biggest hole in the story has Wallach returning the guns and ammo to the Magnificent Seven, who promptly return to the village and kill Wallach. Needless to say, it is a stupid move, on both counts, with only one purpose: to set up the deaths of heroes and villains in a battle. In Hollywood, the end always justifies the means, but Kurosawa always looked for a logical path to the finish. That is, the bandits never take the village though they die trying.

Kurosawa's bandit leader says little and is scary. Wallach talks his head off and comes off more like a ward politician than a bandit. One almost expects him to say, "Give me what I want and you get what you want." But the bandit mentality is, I take what I want or you die.

There's no use comparing Bernstein's studio symphony slog to the Japanese movie's tense and traditional folk score.

It is true that the Hollywood stars here are better known, and perhaps even better actors, than their counterparts in the Kurosawa flick. That doesn't mean their characters are credible. We admit to liking fiery-eyed Brynner and laconic too-cool-for-school McQueen. We also like Bronson, who plays his character straight. Buchholz seems to know he is miscast, and for this we will forgive him, too. It would be nice, though, if his character made a pass at Rosenda Monteros, who shamelessly throws herself at him because the director thinks it would be interesting and the film needs a romance angle to satisfy female viewers.

The problems are with Robert Vaughn, who acts more like a shy boy at a high school dance than a gunman, and with Brad Dexter, who can't get it through his head that he is fighting only for tamales and refried beans. "C'mon, there's gotta be a gold mine somewhere." No, no mine. "Ya means its buried?" Dude, there's no gold! "Well, it must be silver then! Where is it?"