John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven” is such a pitch perfect example of how to accomplish a remake. And Sturges has his work cut out for him as “The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai.” Kurosawa’s film was already considered a classic by 1960, and was a juggernaut of foreign cinema that influenced filmmakers and studios worldwide. Even today its influence over cinema is immense. So it’s no small feat that “The Magnificent Seven” is just as good as the original and can stand side by side with it as another version of the tale that is as compelling and action packed. In fact Kurosawa loved it so much he allegedly sent Sturges a ceremonial sword as a bid a token of approval for his version.
It’s not a shock since “The Magnificent Seven” takes a genius narrative and transplants it in to the old west. Sturges casts a who’s who of American actors for his film, all of whom carry what is already a very strong concept for a tale about underdogs and defending the downtrodden from bandits. Eli Wallach plays the evil Calvera, a leader of bandits that periodically raid a local Mexican village for food and supplies. Despite the villagers’ pleas to be spared, Calvera promises to return to loot the village with his army of bandits once more. When the leaders of the village ride in to a town in America hoping for weapons to defend themselves, they find Chris Adams, as played by Yul Brynner. Adams is a veteran gunslinger who offers to help the villagers find gunmen of their own to help defend them.
When they convince Chris to follow them back and defend their village, Chris begins to look far and wide for six other gun men to help in the mission to defend the poor village. The massive star power enlisted allows for a variety of entertaining and empathetic heroes, all of whom have something personal to gain from this inevitable war that ensues. Despite the behind the scenes turmoil, Brynner and Steve McQueen have amazing chemistry together, providing something of a precursor to the buddy action movie, at times. Folks like James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson shine as well, giving strong turns as flawed heroes that inadvertently form a bond with select villagers, including Bronson’s character, who begins to connect with the male elders of the village, who turn over for Wallach’s villainous bandit whenever he makes demands toward them.
As someone who’s seen “Seven Samurai,” Sturges sticks closely to the original narrative well, offering up a truncated version of it, and restages a lot of the most memorable moments including young cowboy Chico openly berating the villagers for not fighting back, and character Bernardo lecturing the young sons of the village about how noble their fathers are for refusing to fight the bandits. “The Magnificent Seven” is still the standard for how remakes should be built. It respects the source material, gives it a new twist, packs the screen with dazzling actors all of whom get their chance to shine, and keeps the concept exciting and original. It’s an excellent companion to Kurosawa’s film.