In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “This is a move that takes some of the broadest and most over used character types, puts them through some of the broadest, most over used character arcs, and comes out the other side with seven truly unique men, each with their own fully formed, fully engaging stories.”
“If you get killed, we take the rifle and avenge you. And we see to it there’s always fresh flowers on your grave.”
It’s rare that movie remakes ever come close to reaching the notoriety of the originals that inspired them. Way more common are remakes being met with cynical distrust or dismissal. So it’s even more rare for a remake to become as well known as its original, especially when that original is widely regarded as one of the absolute greatest movies of all time. That original is Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, a genuine epic masterpiece that deserves every bit of praise it has ever received. It’s remake is an exercise in mainstream genre crowd pleasing that may not have the prestige of its inspiration, but makes up for that by being one of the most purely entertaining movies ever, The Magnificent Seven.
After the Mexican bandit Calvera (Eli Wallach) raids a small village for what is obviously just the latest of many attacks, the villagers decide to fight back. They cross the border into America, looking to buy guns for self defence. They meet Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), who convinces them to hire gunslingers instead. A group of gunslingers he will himself assemble, despite the modest amount the villagers can afford to pay. His recruitment starts with drifter Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), after the two bond over their inability to cope with the taming of the formerly wild west.
Their posse is filled out by broke gunfighter Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), knife expert Britt (James Coburn, with what is possibly the most badass character introduction in the history of cinema), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), who is convinced the hills around the village are overflowing with treasure, on the run gunman and dandy Lee (Robert Vaughn), and young, hot head Chico (Horst Buchholz), over compensating for his obvious insecurities with plenty of false swagger. Their motives might all be different, but it doesn’t take long before living with the villagers they’re protecting makes each and every one that little bit more noble as they wait for the return of Calvera.
When I grew up, this was a story I saw over, and over, and over again. Only in those days, this story was called The Three Amigos! It’s amazing to see just how different the results can be when the same story, the same setting and same moral dilemmas are approached from totally different angles. How can such similar DNA lead to one of the most iconic action westerns ever, and one of the best comedies of the 80s?
I could talk about the many, many strengths of The Three Amigos!, but this isn’t the time or place. So I guess I’ll stick to the many, many strengths of The Magnificent Seven. This is a movie that takes some of the broadest and most over used character types, puts them through some of the broadest, most over used character arcs, and comes out the other side with seven truly unique men, each with their own fully formed, fully engaging stories.
From the noble leader, to the closed off drifter, to the cold, emotionless killer who feels like he’s got nothing left to lose, to the cocky young punk in over his head, they all define and defy those stereotypes for a masterclass in western and ensemble story telling.