Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

TOP 100 FILMS: #69

A small Mexican village struggles to survive amid constantly being taken advantage of by a local group of bandits, and their leader, Calvera (Eli Wallach). To save their village, they decide to hire seven gunmen (Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, & Horst Buchholz).

I'm betting if you really tried you'd be hard pressed to come up with a list of 10 remakes that actual manage to adapt without copying/losing the original. Though at, if not near, the top of every one ought to be John Sturges' 1960 film The Magnificent Seven. Wonderfully adapting Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic, The Seven Samurai, Sturges' collects a group of up and comers, future legends, and experienced actors to bring out the life in his remake. Limiting the scale, Sturges manages to bring in Kurosawa's 3+hour epic, in just over 2 hours with colorful characters, similar to the actors playing them.

Wallach is perfect as the colorful opponent to the seven lawmen. Cunning, people smart, and yet ruthless, Calvera provides a strong opposition, and great character development to our core heroes. At the same time, Sturges doesn't sacrifice the notion of the flawed hero. Many of our secondary characters, much like their components, have subtle troubles in their lives, they are either escaping from, or running to. These little insights allow the audience to feel both sympathy, and revere them at the same time. We're allowed in, if only a little bit, to see why they are the way they are, and why they would take on such a difficult task.

Sturges, a solid director through every film, has always been dependent on the screenplay to make his films work. This is where William Roberts comes in. Developing similar characters, story arcs, and situations from the original, Roberts is able to transpose Kurosawa's masterpiece, maintain its subtext, and yet present the film in a new light. At every turn a new development, as the film progresses so does our love and compassion for the characters, adding all the tension you could ever want into a powerful finale.

One of the greatest remakes ever made, The Magnificent Seven is fun, exciting, and maintains that same look at humanity that Kurosawa's original did.

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