“The American copy is a disappointment, although entertaining. It is not a version of Seven Samurai. I do not know why they call it that.” This is how Kurosawa described The Magnificent Seven, our AK film club‘s film for August, in an interview with R.B. Gadi in 1966 (quoted from Cardullo). The American film is, of course, a remake of our last month’s film, Seven Samurai.
Released in October 1960, The Magnificent Seven was something of a commercial success, but not quite a critical one. The New York Times reviewer Howard Thompson called it “a pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original”, while Variety approved of the first two thirds of the film describing it as “a rip-roaring rootin’ tootin’ western with lots of bite and tang and old-fashioned abandon”, but found the finish disappointing. The film has since gained a more positive image, possibly through its repeated showings on television, as well as thanks to its star studded cast.
According to Martinez, who dedicates a number of pages on The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, the film was originally to be set in the American Civil War, with Martin Ritt to direct from a script that would have been closer to Kurosawa’s original than what was ultimately filmed. In the end, however, it was John Sturges who helmed the production, while Ritt would go on to do his own Kurosawa remake four years later with The Outrage.
While The Magnificent Seven retains many of the characters and plot points from the original, by moving the story to the American old west it necessarily has to change much of what is at the very core of the original film. Many of the central themes suggested by Seven Samurai (see for instance my introduction to Seven Samurai from last month) have either been changed or removed completely, and it is therefore interesting to look at The Magnificent Seven in terms of how it translates, or doesn’t translate, the original for western audiences. It is also worth paying special attention to Elmer Bernstein’s music for the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and at times appears to echo the more oriental soundscapes of Fumio Hayasaka’s score for Seven Samurai.
While reflecting its source, the translation also has to wrestle with the demands and traditions of its target language, that of the American western. In many ways, The Magnificent Seven is a very typical western, but in others it goes against certain genre conventions. One of these is the film’s group of heroes, as opposed to the more standard setup of a lone hero and his sidekick.
Thanks to its commercial success, The Magnificent Seven spawned three sequels and was later resurrected in the 1998 television series of the same name. As we heard in May, a remake of the film is currently in production, with Tom Cruise reportedly attached to the project.