Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
100 Greatest Videos Games Of All Time
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Empire Visits The Hobbit's VFX Team
Nick Frost:
My Movie Life

The World's End star's pick of the flicks
4Music's Size Does Matter
Introducing your new favourite app
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

Yul Brynner
Eli Wallach
Steve McQueen
Charles Bronson.
John Sturges.
William Roberts
Walter Bernstein
Walter Newman.
Running Time
128 minutes

3 Star Empire Rating
They Came Together
3 Star Empire Rating
Attila Marcel
3 Star Empire Rating
Life Of Crime
3 Star Empire Rating
Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar
3 Star Empire Rating

Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
5 Star Empire Rating

EMPIRE ESSAY: The Magnificent Seven
An accomplished Kurosawa's, Shichinin no Samurai (1954)

submit to reddit

A bandit terrorizes a small Mexican farming village each year. Several of the village elders send three of the farmers into the United States to search for gunmen to defend them. They end up with 7, each of whom comes for a different reason. They must prepare the town to repulse an army of over 100 bandits who will arrive wanting food.

Few films are shown on TV more often than the big, all-star he-man action-adventures John Sturges made in the 1960s, The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape (1963). It's a standing joke that a rainy Bank Holiday can't slink by without a screening of one of them, although why programmers should so often reach for these particular cinematic six-shooters is easily understood. Both movies, although spectacular and expansive, play well on the small screen. Their fairly ordinary stories are told soap-style in overlapping sub-plots, each archetypal character arriving complete with a set of demons to overcome or character traits to show off. With Elmer Bernstein's memorable musical scores, inciting much whistling along from the sofa, the films rattle through lengthy running times and both deliver endings more satisfying than simple victory — the righteous are vindicated and too many good men are sent to their graves.

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) was an attempt to combine the American western and Japanese swordplay movies, so it was a comparatively simple trick to retranslate the screenplay into a cowboy setting. However, it took a few years for this "obvious" idea to take root. In the past, Hollywood had remade foreign films as star vehicles (Intermezzo, Ingrid Bergman's American debut, was a script she'd already played in Swedish) or exotic items (Algiers, based on Pepe le Moko). There had been westerns with plots loosely appropriated from non-western sources (Howard Hawks's Red River is Mutiny On The Bounty in Stetsons), but The Magnificent Seven was the beginning of a trend to which we owe Sergio Leone's A Fistful Of Dollars (1964) (from Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) and, once science-fiction and thriller-action had replaced the oater as the primary Hollywood genre, the multi-remake-of-everything approach taken by Star Wars or the recycling of foreign hits like Nikita (1990) and The Vanishing (1993).

The marauding bandits who prey on the isolated village are now sombrero-sporting Pancho Villa types, led by Eli Wallach (who gets a more substantial role than his barely-seen equivalent in the Japanese film) with a first draft of his accent from The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Instead of swift-sword samurai, the downtrodden villagers appeal to quick-gunmen. When the naive villager suggests they approach a tough-looking scarred fellow, his wiser partner says they should instead look, "for the man who gave him those scars." As in the Kurosawa movie, the heroes are an unusual bunch of near-psychopaths, comic oddballs and mythic archetypes. The film was such a big hit that you now accept its eccentricities, but at the time bald Russian Yul Brynner (who seems to have been up for the job because he looks a bit like Takeshi Shimura in the original) was not an obvious choice for all-in-black gunslinger-with-integrity Chris. It was a role he would reprise in the first of a run of sequels (Return Of The Seven (1966) and reference as a killer robot in Westworld (1973), but you have to ask how someone with his accent and face got out West in the first place, let alone became such a western feature that he would be cast as an Indian (Kings Of The Sun (1963) and a Mexican (Pancho Villa (1968).

The rest of the seven were young, unfamiliar types with more TV experience than Hollywood clout: competing cool cats McQueen (Vin) and James Coburn (Britt), solid presence (and another Russian) Charles Bronson (Bernardo O'Reilly), well-dressed but nerves-shot Robert Vaughn (Lee), combustible German Mexican Horst Buchholz (Chico) and avaricious Brad Dexter (Harry Luck). Dexter was best-known as Frank Sinatra's bodyguard, but the rest of the cast scored some sort of stardom.

Because he became arguably the biggest star in the posse, it's strange to look again at the film and find that McQueen takes the sidekick role, standing back to admire Brynner, while Coburn gets the part to kill for, as the ice-perfect knife-thrower who conies closest to being a samurai out west. They are a brawling, bothersome assortment and the mismatch of their personalities makes for weird entertainment: no-one ever did more acting in a single film than Buchholz does here, in a vain effort to match Toshiro Mifune, but Bronson seems carved from rock (he gets stuck with the palling-about-with kids subplot).

Vaughn is a Method mannerist, quivering with neurosis as the others are gritting their teeth, and Dexter looks as if he was just happy they let him into the cast party. Rosenda Monteros wafts through in a peasant blouse but this is a boys' film.

Deep down, you know it's not as good as Seven Samurai — but few films are. You also know that next time it's on television, you'll find yourself watching it, caught early by Brynner's lazy ride up to Boot Hill and staying until the bodies are buried and the survivors walk away.

Reviewed by Kim Newman

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list

Video Interviews: The Stars And Directors Talk As Above, So Below
We talked to Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman and company about their underground horror…

The Future Of Film: All Big Blockbusters Will Be Shot At 48 FPS
Our month-long series begins discussing the innovations that will shape cinema

Video Interviews: Chloe Grace Moretz And Jamie Blackley Talk If I Stay
The stars, director R.J. Cutler and co-star Joshua Leonard talk YA adaptations

Gillian Robespierre And Jenny Slate Talk Obvious Child
Director and star on their acclaimed rom-com

The Empire Podcast #126: Jon Hamm Talks Million Dollar Arm, Mad Men And Beards
Plus Richard Ayoade pops in to talk about directing The Double

15 Of The Weirdest TV Cameos Of All Time
From Michael Palin in Home And Away to Ian McKellen in Corrie

Updated: The 36 Best Film-Related Ice Bucket Challenges
The viral craze that won’t quit takes in some of Hollywood’s finest

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)