That music, that cast… It’s no wonder that Sturges’ Americanisation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of my all time favourite westerns, and the first recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Wild Bunch.
Elmer Bernstein’s rousing and memorable score supports Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz and Brad Dexter in this iconic film.
Calvera (Wallach) is a vicious bandit. He and his gang are terrorising a small Mexican town. With nowhere to turn, the villagers decide to try to hire gunfighters to run Calvera and his men off.
Their coin may not buy the nicest men, but they are the best at what they do. Seven men are brought together, led by Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen), and despite their differences in belief, style, and honour, are drawn into the drama of the small town, even if it will cost them their lives.
The story moves quickly, entertains, and features some great moments, iconic performances, and an enduring story.
The men are slowly drawn out of their hard-boiled shells as the town embraces them. They slowly become invested in the town, forgetting their fee (a measly twenty dollars each for a six weeks work), and fighting because they have become a part of the town.
But what happens when the odds get too high, will they stay, will they fight, or will they turn and flee, leaving the little village to Calvera? Or will the villagers tire of the gunfighters’ orders and come to believe that the bandit is the lesser of two evils?
This film is fantastic, it’s paced brilliantly, has an unparalleled cast. McQueen and Brynner make a good onscreen pairing (despite their offscreen problems), and it’s great to see a number of cast members in this film, who would work together again in The Great Escape (one of my other favourite films).
Knowing what went on behind the scenes only adds to my enjoyment of the film, and I love watching all the cast trying to outdo each other with little scene-stealing moments. This is particularly noticeable in the hearse sequence when McQueen does all he can, seemingly, to draw attention from Brynner’s Chris to him.
Amazingly this film did not do well at the North American box office when it was initially released, but happily, Kurosawa loved it. Of course since that time the story has been revisited a number of times including a television series, a remake, a science fiction version and even a nod to it in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.
I think, however, that only this version, and Kurosawa’s original film will be remembered fondly. The others will have their fans, but these are classics.
Make sure you check them out!