This Week's Review: The Magnificent Seven

Several critics have commented on Hollywood’s current obsession with remakes of older films and television series; the track record, so far, has been rather dispiriting; the market seems to be rather limited.  The latest example of an unneeded remake is The Magnificent Seven.  The film is not bad, but it adds little or nothing to the original films.  I still remember seeing the Yul Brynner version in 1960; I was so impressed that I sat through the next showing.  (Yes, I paid for it; admission was twenty-five cents for adults in those days.)

A few years later, I realized that the Brynner film was itself a remake of a Japanese classic, Akiro Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  My memory for dates is rusty, but I think it was in 1956 that I saw clips from that film on an old CBS Sunday afternoon show called Odyssey.  (This was in the days when the networks did not completely clutter up their screens with football and other trivialities on Sunday afternoons.)  I re-watched the Kurosawa original as preparation for the new version and I was struck by how much the new one has retained.

The cast is good; the only three of the seven whom I recognized were Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke, and Chris Pratt.  I still prefer Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Robert Vaughan in those roles, but the current group does hold its own.  The plot does not deal with a small village terrorized by bandits; instead, it involves a small mining town terrorized by a vicious  money-grubbing banker from Sacramento.  Even though he makes Eli Wallach’s version of a Mexican bandito seem benign, neither the actor nor the role is convincing.

I saw the 2-D version and was irritated two or three times by some clumsy matte shots of the local mountain range; those scenes might look better in the 3-D version, but I can not justify another trip to the theater just to check on that minor point.

The Brynner version came out before the advent of spaghetti westerns and the remake has several allusions to that genre.  At times I thought I was watching For a Magnificent Handful of Dollars; since Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was a major influence on what would become the spaghetti western genre, the allusions were more than appropriate. This version is far more violent than either of its predecessors.

One of the 1960 version’s greatest assets was Elmer Bernstein’s pounding score.  In recent weeks, I had bemoaned the assumed absence of that score from this version.  I am to happy to admit that the late James Horner’s score is quite adequate, but the best news is that Bernstein’s original music emerges at the end.  It is worth staying for the closing credits just to hear that music once more.   I was also glad to see in those credits an acknowledgement of Kurosawa’s original masterpiece.