Play It Again – The Magnificent Seven

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By Simon Miraudo
February 27, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

“Only the dead have no fear.” Words spoken in The Magnificent Seven, and surely echoed by director John Sturges as he embarked on the impossible task of remaking one of the all time great movies.

A bandit by the name of Calvera (Eli Wallach) treats a poor Mexican village like his own personal grocery store, inspiring the villagers to recruit a septet of vigilantes to scare him and his crew away. Veteran gunslinger Chris (Yul Brynner) is the first to be hired, though he’s reluctant on account of the mission’s futility and, more importantly, its low pay. He brings in the recently broke Vin (Steve McQueen), money hungry Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), Irish-Mexican Bernardo (Charles Bronson), stiff-lipped Britt (James Coburn), the disturbed and shaken Lee (Robert Vaughn), and young gun Chico (Horst Buchholz). Tempted first by the promise of payment – no matter how small – they eventually come to care for their employers, willing to face certain death the next time Calvera rides into town.

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A familiarity with Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai does The Magnificent Seven few favours. Sturges’ redo of the seminal flick transplants the tale from feudal Japan to the old American west. It’s not as entertaining an update as, say, Sergio Leone‘s A Fistful of Dollars was of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Yet, The Magnificent Seven is the one more ingrained in our collective cultural subconscious. The credit for that must go to Elmer Bernstein’s triumphant score, as well as the singular pleasure of seeing icons like Brynner, McQueen, Wallach, and Bronson sharing the screen. The cast is indeed stacked.

Seven Samurai developed virtually every action trope we enjoy today (and treated us to a particularly unhinged Toshiro Mifune performance). The Magnificent Seven can’t do the same. It is certainly entertaining. However, that’s mostly because it coasts on the genius of the original Japanese take (sorta-remakes Three AmigosA Bug’s Life, and 13 Assassins share that in common). A late digression in which the titular heroes meet Calvera to negotiate a truce is a new addition. But by the time we reach the inevitable final showdown – which is, admittedly, thrillingly captured by Sturges and DOP Charles Lang – the similarities emerge again. Bernstein’s score is one for the ages. This film, however, is not.

3/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Magnificent Seven is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY.

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