The Magnificent Seven
|The Magnificent Seven|
Original film poster
|Directed by||John Sturges|
|Produced by||John Sturges|
|Screenplay by||William Roberts
|Based on||Seven Samurai
by Akira Kurosawa
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Edited by||Ferris Webster|
The Mirisch Company
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$2,250,000 (rentals)|
The Magnificent Seven is a 1960 American Western film directed by John Sturges and starring Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, Horst Buchholz, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, and Eli Wallach. The film is an Old West-style remake of Akira Kurosawa's 1954 Japanese masterpiece Seven Samurai. Brynner, McQueen, Buchholz, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Brad Dexter portray the title characters, a group of seven gunfighters hired to protect a small village in Mexico from a group of marauding bandits and their leader (Wallach). The film's musical score was composed by Elmer Bernstein. In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
A Mexican village is periodically raided for food and supplies by Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his bandits. As he and his men ride away from their latest visit, Calvera promises to return to loot the village again. Taking what meager goods they have, the village leaders ride to a town just inside the United States hoping to barter for weapons to defend themselves. While there, they encounter Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), a veteran Cajun gunslinger. After listening to their tale, Chris suggests that the village hire gunfighters, which would be cheaper than guns and ammunition. The village men relentlessly try to convince him to be their gunman. At first he agrees only to help them find men, but later he decides to recruit six other men to help him defend the village, despite the poor pay offered.
The other men include hotheaded, inexperienced Chico (Horst Buchholz); Chris's friend Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), who believes Chris is seeking treasure; the drifter Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), who has gone broke after a round of gambling and is loath to accept a position as a store clerk; Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), a gunfighter of Irish-Mexican heritage who has fallen on hard times; a cowboy, Britt (James Coburn), interested only in further perfecting his already high skills in both knife and gun, who joins purely for the challenge involved to test those skills; and an on-the-run gunman Lee (Robert Vaughn) struggling with a crisis of confidence. The group recognizes they will be outnumbered, but they hope that Calvera will move on to an easier village when he sees professional resistance.
Arriving at the village, the seven gunmen begin to train the villagers to defend themselves. Each finds himself befriending the villagers. When they realize that the small meal made for them by the women consists of all the food in the village, the gunmen share it with the villagers. Chico is fascinated by Petra (Rosenda Monteros), one of the village's young women. Bernardo bonds with three of the village's little boys. Lee, struggling with nightmares and fearing the loss of his skills, is comforted by the residents. Harry presses the villagers, unsuccessfully, for information about any treasure. Hilario (Jorge Martínez de Hoyos) and Vin briefly discuss nerves on the eve of battle; Vin confesses that he envies Hilario's quiet farming life. Calvera and his bandits soon arrive, sustain heavy losses, and are run out of town by the gunmen and the villagers working in concert. Chico, who is Mexican, follows Calvera back to his camp, pretending to be one of the bandits. He learns that Calvera must raid the village because he is desperate for food to feed his men.
Chico reports this to Chris. Some of the men believe they should leave but Chris insists that they stay, even threatening to kill any villager who so much as suggests giving up the fight. They ride out to make a surprise raid on Calvera's camp, but find the camp empty. Returning to the village, they find that the fearful villagers have allowed Calvera to take control. Calvera spares the gunmen's lives, believing that they have learned that the simple farmers are not worth defending; he also fears reprisals from gunfighter friends of theirs from north of the border. The seven gunmen are escorted out of the village. They debate their next move, and all but Harry agree to return and free the village from Calvera. Harry believes the effort will lead to their deaths and rides off alone.
The six gunmen return and a gunfight begins. The villagers, recognizing the courage of the gunmen, join in the fight, made possible in part by Lee finding the nerve to break into a house where many are being held captive, and shooting all three men guarding them, before he is gunned down himself. Harry, who has had a change of heart, arrives in time to protect Chris but is fatally shot. Bernardo is killed protecting the children he had befriended. Britt dies after killing a considerable number of bandits. The bandits are routed, and Chris shoots Calvera. Calvera asks him, "You came back... to a place like this? Why? A man like you? Why?" But dies without an answer.
The three remaining gunmen help to bury the dead. Chico decides to stay in the village with Petra, but Chris and Vin prepare to leave. The village elder bids them farewell and says that only the villagers have really won: "You're like the wind, blowing over the land and... passing on... ¡Vaya con Dios!" As they leave, they pass the graves of their fallen comrades. Chris says, "The Old Man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We'll always lose."
Brad Dexter was cast at the urging of Frank Sinatra, who knew Sturges well, because Dexter had saved Sinatra's life when the two were swimming off the coast of Hawaii. James Coburn was a great fan of the Japanese Seven Samurai, having seen it 15 times, and was hired through the help of co-star and former classmate Robert Vaughn, after the role of the expert gunslinger had been rejected by actors Sterling Hayden and John Ireland.
Sturges was eager to cast Steve McQueen in the picture, having just worked with him on the 1959 film Never So Few, but McQueen could not get a release from actor/producer Dick Powell, who controlled McQueen's hit TV series Wanted Dead or Alive. On the advice of his agent, McQueen, an expert race car driver, staged a car accident and claimed that he couldn't work on his series because he had suffered a whiplash injury and had to wear a neck brace. During the interval required for his "recuperation", he was free to appear in The Magnificent Seven.
Yul Brynner approached producer Walter Mirisch with the idea of remaking Kurosawa's famous samurai film, but once Mirisch had acquired the rights from Japan's Toho Studios, and finalized a distribution deal with United Artists, Brynner was sued for breach of contract by actor Anthony Quinn, who claimed that he and Brynner had developed the concept together and had worked out many of the film's details before the two fell out with each other. Quinn ultimately lost his claim, because there was nothing in writing.
Script credit was a subject of contention. Associate producer Lou Morheim commissioned Walter Bernstein, a blacklisted scriptwriter, to produce the first draft "faithfully" adapted from the original script written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni and Akira Kurosawa; when executive producer Walter Mirisch and Brynner took over the production, they brought on Walter Newman, whose version "is largely what's on screen." When Newman was unavailable to be on-site during the film's principal photography in Mexico, William Roberts was hired, in part to make changes required by Mexican censors. When Roberts asked the Writers Guild of America for a co-credit, Newman asked that his name be removed from the credits.
Filming began on March 1, 1960, on location in Mexico, where both the village and the U.S. border town were built for the film. The location filming was in Cuernavaca, Durango, and Tepoztlán and at the Churubusco Studios. The first scene shot was the first part of the six gunfighters' journey to the Mexican village, prior to Chico being brought into the group.
During filming, there was considerable tension between Brynner and McQueen, who was displeased when he realized that his character had only seven lines of dialog in the original shooting script. To compensate, McQueen took numerous opportunities to upstage Brynner in order to draw attention to himself, including shielding his eyes with his hat, flipping a coin during one of Brynner's speeches, and rattling his shotgun shells. Brynner, who was only half an inch taller than McQueen, would often build up a little mound of earth to stand on when the two actors were on camera together, only to have McQueen surreptitiously kick the dirt out of place before retakes. When newspapers started reporting on the altercations on set between the two, Brynner issued a press statement, declaring, "I never feud with actors. I feud with studios."
The film's score is by Elmer Bernstein. Along with the iconic main theme and effective support of the story line, the score also contains allusions to twentieth-century symphonic works, such as the reference to Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, second movement, in the tense quiet scene just before the shoot out. The original soundtrack was not released at the time until reused and rerecorded by Bernstein for the soundtrack of Return of the Seven. Electric guitar cover versions by Al Caiola in the U.S. and John Barry in the U.K. were successful on the popular charts. A vocal theme not written by Bernstein was used in a trailer.
In 1994, James Sedares conducted a re-recording of the score performed by The Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, which also included a suite from Bernstein's score for The Hallelujah Trail, issued by Koch Records; Bernstein himself conducted the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for a performance released by RCA in 1997, but the original film soundtrack was not released until the following year by Rykodisc. (Varèse Sarabande reissued this album in 2004.)
- Main Title and Calvera (3:56)
- Council (3:14)
- Quest (1:00)
- Strange Funeral/After The Brawl (6:48)
- Vin’s Luck (2:03)
- And Then There Were Two (1:45)
- Fiesta (1:11)
- Stalking (1:20)
- Worst Shot (3:02)
- The Journey (4:39)
- Toro (3:24)
- Training (1:27)
- Calvera's Return (2:37)
- Calvera Routed (1:49)
- Ambush (3:10)
- Bernardo (3:33)
- Surprise (2:08)
- Defeat (3:26)
- Crossroads (4:47)
- Harry's Mistake (2:48)
- Calvera Killed (3:33)
- Finale (3:27)
Bernstein's score has frequently been quoted in the media and popular culture. Starting in 1963, the theme was used in commercials in the U.S. for Marlboro cigarettes. A similar-sounding (but different) tune was used for Victoria Bitter beer in Australia. The theme was included in the James Bond film Moonraker.
Other uses include in the 2004 documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11; in the 2005 film The Ringer; as entrance music for the British band James, as well as episodes of The Simpsons that had a "Western" theme (mainly in the episode titled "Dude, Where's My Ranch?"). The opening horn riff in Arthur Conley's 1967 hit "Sweet Soul Music" is borrowed from the theme. Canadian band Kon Kan use the opening bars of the theme in their single "I Beg Your Pardon". Celtic Football Club (Glasgow, Scotland) used the theme music whenever Henrik Larsson scored a goal.
The Mick Jones 1980s band Big Audio Dynamite covered the song as "Keep off the Grass" (although this cover was not officially released). In 1995, the KLF also did a drum and bass cover of the main title as "The Magnificent"; it was released under the group alias One World Orchestra on the charity compilation The Help Album.
In 1992, the main theme of The Magnificent Seven came into use on a section of the Euro Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland Paris. Portions of the theme play as the train exits the Grand Canyon diorama tunnel behind Phantom Manor, enters Frontierland, and travels along the bank of the Rivers of the Far West.
The "Main Title" was used as an intro tune on many nights of Bruce Springsteen's 2012 Wrecking Ball Tour. The theme was played as the E Street Band entered the stage, adding to the dramatic atmosphere in the stadium.
Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film a "pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original"; according to Thompson, "don't expect anything like the ice-cold suspense, the superb juxtaposition of revealing human vignettes and especially the pile-driver tempo of the first Seven." According to Variety magazine's December 31, 1960 review, "Until the women and children arrive on the scene about two-thirds of the way through, The Magnificent Seven is a rip-roaring rootin' tootin' western with lots of bite and tang and old-fashioned abandon. The last third is downhill, a long and cluttered anti-climax in which The Magnificent Seven grow slightly too magnificent for comfort." Akira Kurosawa, however, was reportedly so impressed by the film that he presented John Sturges with a sword.
At the 33rd Academy Awards, the score was nominated for Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, losing to Ernest Gold's score for Exodus. Many decades later, however, the score for The Magnificent Seven was listed at No. 8 on the American Film Institute's list of the top 25 American film scores.
The film has grown greatly in esteem since its release, largely due to its cast (several of whom would go on to become superstars over the decade following its release) and its music score. As of 2012, it has a freshness rating of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is the second most shown film in U.S. television history, behind only The Wizard of Oz. The film is also ranked No. 79 on the AFI's list of American cinema's 100 most-thrilling films.
Sequels and adaptations
The film was a box office disappointment in the United States, but proved to be such a smash hit in Europe that it ultimately made a profit. Three sequels were eventually made: Return of the Seven (1966), Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), and The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972). None were as successful as the original film.
The film also inspired a television series, The Magnificent Seven, which ran from 1998 to 2000. Robert Vaughn was a recurring guest star, a judge who hires the seven to protect the town in which his widowed daughter-in-law and his grandson live.
The 1980s action-adventure series The A-Team was initially devised as a combination of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven. The show's pilot film plays much on the plot of The Magnificent Seven, and there are similar plot echoes in various other episodes. James Coburn was originally approached to play John "Hannibal" Smith, the team's leader, a role that ultimately went to George Peppard in the series; and Robert Vaughn was added to the cast in the final season as part of a revamp attempt to boost fading ratings.
A remake of the film was released on September 23, 2016, with Antoine Fuqua directing and Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, and Peter Sarsgaard starring.
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- Transcript of script. Accessed 1 May 2012.
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- p.14 Billboard 27 Feb 1961
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- URL: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1013077-magnificent_seven/ . Accessed Sep 26, 2012
- Mirisch, Walter (2008). I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History (p. 113). University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin. ISBN 0-299-22640-9.
- Joe Neumaier (2001-01-21). "Encore: A Real Kick In the 'A'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
- "Haley Bennett Lands Female Lead In MGM's 'The Magnificent Seven'".
- Borys Kit (May 14, 2015). "Matt Bomer Joining Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt in 'Magnificent Seven' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. (Prometheus Global Media). Retrieved May 15, 2015.
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