(Image: Authors DVD Collection)
Akira Kurosawa’s film “The Last Samurai” inspired the filming in 1960 of what many film critics have termed “the last American Western”, ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Generally speaking, it seems rather pointless to attempt a remake of this classic film. Invariably, the incentive to do so is to capitalize on the success of the original, and therein lies the mistake of rebooting, to coin a phrase, a newer version. Several observations are in order.
An impending writer’s strike in Hollywood led the filmmaker’s to move production in 1960 to Mexico. The star-studded cast included: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaugh, Horst Bucholz, Charles Bronson, Brad Dexter and James Coburn as gunfighters. Eli Wallach portrays Calvera, the leader of a large group of bandits.
In this adaptation of the Kurosawa film, a small Mexican farming village is repeatedly terrorized by bandits who pilfer food and precious resources from the struggling community of hard-working people that are defenseless. When it becomes apparent that the village needs the assistance of professional gunfighters, a recruitment effort begins with Yul Brynner (Chris), who is approached by three of the village elders. Though very little money is available, seven men with formidable gun skills (and one with a knife) are slowly recruited to defend the village and drive off the bandits, numbering more than thirty. In fact, one of the film’s taglines is: “They were seven, and they fought like seven hundred!”
Given the time, technology and authenticity for each classic movie that is ever made, re-casting a so-called ‘reboot’ invariably draws comparisons to that of the original film.
During the 1960 filming, there was a very well-publicized tension between McQueen and Brynner, owing to the ambitions of an up and coming McQueen against Brynner, an older and more established star. It’s safe to say that Brynner tolerated McQueen and his antics to steal the movie away from him with seemingly innocuous gestures. An example is evident in the famous stagecoach scene. Hired to drive a stagecoach bearing a body to a burial site blocked by men who object to internment of the decedent, Brynner and McQueen are paid for the assignment. While the camera is trained on Brynner striking a match on his boot to light his cigarette, McQueen deliberately improvises with a series of distractions designed to shift the audience focus to him. McQueen is seen removing and adjusting his hat, rattling a handful of bullets as he loads a rifle, and otherwise sarcastically taking attention away from Brynner, who remains stoic.
The dynamics of great casting are evident, as each character in this film reveals both their personal strengths and weaknesses. Friendships among the men are formed, and love develops between a local girl and one of the gunfighters. The film is widely regarded as one of the final films capping decades of Westerns amid the dawning of a new age of filmmaking in Hollywood.
To digress for a moment, the 1972 Steve McQueen film, The Getaway, co-staring Ali MacGraw was re-filmed in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. This was an admirable effort to recreate a new adventure long after the original release. But one must ask if there is a compelling reason for doing so?
Speculation has been rampant for years about a ‘reboot’ of “The Thomas Crown Affair”, another McQueen action movie. If the reasoning is that the film contains now-dated wardrobes and dial telephones, should we look for a remake of Wall Street because Michael Douglas is seen using an early “brick style” cellular telephone? Out of these considerations, I suggest that Hollywood filmmakers appear challenged to create an original movie. Nevertheless, the precipitating reason owing to the level of success with an old film refreshed with a crisper script and new actors doesn’t justify for this author what amounts to copying an old formula. The recent release of a rebooted Magnificent Seven film has received poor reviews. Only the famous Elmer Bernstein score from the original film appears at the end.
Sadly, only actor Robert Vaughn survives from the 1960 cast, and he remains active today. The bottom line for me is that once you see the original Magnificent Seven by director John Sturges, there is no comparison with a remake.