Movies

With the lat­est in­car­na­tion of a cin­e­matic clas­sic set to hit screens, fans of its mag­nif­i­cent her­itage are get­ting nos­tal­gic

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY | SHOWS - TROY LEN­NON

It has be­come some­thing of a film cliche: A group of men hired by poor vil­lagers or towns­folk to de­fend them against evil ma­raud­ers. The movie that made this cliche fa­mous was The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven.

While a new ver­sion, re­leased this week, is a re­make of the clas­sic 1960 western, it is not widely known that the orig­i­nal The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven was also a re­make. It was based on the Ja­panese film The Seven Sa­mu­rai, directed by Akira Kuro­sawa, who was ac­tu­ally in­spired by Amer­i­can west­erns.

Born in Tokyo in 1910, Kuro­sawa was in­tro­duced to films at six by his teacher father, who be­lieved movies had ed­u­ca­tional merit. Kuro­sawa’s older brother, Heigo, later worked as a ben­shi or nar­ra­tor for for­eign silent films, but com­mit­ted sui­cide when the silent film era ended. Akira, fail­ing to make a liv­ing as a painter, in 1935 an­swered a film stu­dio ad that called for an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor.

He later said he learnt his craft study­ing Amer­i­can di­rec­tor John Ford. Born in 1894, Ford also had an older brother in the film in­dus­try, who in­spired him to work in film pro­duc­tion in 1914. Ford’s first full-length fea­ture was the 1917 western Straight Shoot­ing.

In the sound era Ford broad­ened his reper­toire to ac­tion, drama, com­edy and his­tor­i­cal epics, but his west­erns had spe­cial ap­peal for Kuro­sawa.

Dur­ing the war both men made pro­pa­ganda films. In 1946 Ford, who was in Ja­pan with the Amer­i­can oc­cu­pa­tion forces, vis­ited Kuro­sawa’s set. Kuro­sawa never knew Ford had been there un­til they met in Lon­don in 1957.

In 1946 Ford made My Dar­ling Cle­men­tine, in which Wy­att Earp, played by Henry Fonda, be­comes mar­shal of Tomb­stone, de­fend­ing the town against the lawless Clay­ton fam­ily gang, end­ing with a cli­mac­tic gun­fight at the OK Cor­ral. It was one of Kuro­sawa’s favourite films. The idea of a hero re­luc­tantly tak­ing on the job of bring­ing law and or­der in­flu­enced Kuro­sawa.

Look­ing for a new idea for a film in the ’50s, Kuro­sawa read about ronin (mas­ter­less sa­mu­rai), de­fend­ing vil­lagers against ma­raud­ers dur­ing the 16th Cen­tury civil wars. Ini­tially he planned a film about a sin­gle sa­mu­rai, but af­ter more re­search a story formed about seven sa­mu­rai, sought out by des­per­ate farm­ers to de­fend them against ban­dits. Most only re­luc­tantly take on the job and in the process con­front per­sonal demons about their pro­fes­sion.

It took a year to make, and the film stu­dio, Toho, shut down pro­duc­tion twice when it ran over bud­get. Kuro­sawa per­sisted, the film pre­miered in 1954 and was a suc­cess in Ja­pan and over­seas.

Seven Sa­mu­rai in­tro­duced many western­ers to Ja­panese cin­ema. Among those en­grossed by it was Amer­i­can screen­writer Lou Morheim, who en­vis­aged a re­make with guns in­stead of swords, so he se­cured the rights.

Morheim pitched the idea to actor Anthony Quinn, who then in­ter­ested Yul Bryn­ner.

Bryn­ner cast him­self as the lead gun­fighter Chris, a man dis­il­lu­sioned with his lifestyle. Ini­tially the film was to be set dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War, but af­ter script re­vi­sions the ac­tion was moved to Mex­ico. Vil­lagers go across the bor­der to hire Amer­i­can gun­fight­ers, down on their luck or suf­fer­ing per­sonal crises, like Kuro­sawa’s sa­mu­rai.

Di­rec­tor John Sturges tried not to slav­ishly im­i­tate Kuro­sawa’s film and shot in colour to em­pha­sise the dif­fer­ence. While Kuro­sawa’s film is of­ten dark and brood­ing, Sturges’ is flooded with light. Elmer Bern­stein’s fa­mous, catchy, Os­car-nom­i­nated score is also more up­beat and heroic.

When The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven pre­miered in 1960 re­views were mixed, some de­rided it as an­other ac­tion flick, but oth­ers saw depth in the gun­fight­ers de­con­struct­ing the western myth. Au­di­ences loved it and it would spawn three se­quels, a TV se­ries and dozens of im­i­ta­tors.

Kuro­sawa would later say that it was “a dis­ap­point­ment” and not a ver­sion of his film. Yet he is said to have been im­pressed enough to have given Sturges a cer­e­mo­nial Ja­panese sword. The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven opens to­day

Pic­ture: Sam Emer­son/Sony Pictures

Den­zel Wash­ing­ton and Chris Pratt in a scene from The Mag­nif­i­cent Seven.

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