Most helpful positive review
283 of 321 people found the following review helpful
KUROSAWA IN CHAPS
on October 3, 2002
Yul Brynner, back in the late 1950's, wanted to direct an American version of the SEVEN SAMURAI, as an western. So he bought up the movie rights. He wanted to cast Anthony Quinn in the lead, as Chris. Brynner had been directed by Quinn in the remake of THE BUCCANEER. Quinn would have been great as Chris, the leader of the Seven; and what a different film it would have been. But, alas, Brynner himself took the part, and put his own stamp of individuality on it. He walked like a cross between a panther and a ballet dancer; light on the balls of his feet. Ironically, as an actor, he was slow on the draw, and not used to Westerns. But artistically, this was never apparent in the finished film.
Many of the Seven's actors had seen the Kurosawa film, and they were very excited about transferring it to the American West. Eli Wallach, as Calvera, in just a few short scenes, found both the humor and the cruelty in the bandit chieftan. His accent and speech pattern were fairly authentic; more so certainly than the young German actor, Horst Buchholz, endeavoring to find a southwestern/Texan/Mexican drawl. Director, John Sturges, had great hopes for Horst; the camera loved him. But it was the trio of studs, Steve McQueen as Vin, Charles Bronson as O'Reilly, and James Coburn as Britt, that dominated the frame.
Steve McQueen, wearing skin-tight leather stovepipe chaps, spent a lot of time finding ways to upstage Yul Brynner. There was a rumor that he would have preferred playing Chico, the Buchholz character. McQueen's manic physical performance, lightning fast with a pistol and a quip, seemed to work well for him, and it gave him more than his share of focus. His Vin emerged as lethal, lean, and hungry; yet weary of the gunfighter's plight, and envious of the simplicity and the honor of the peasants fighting for their families and their homes.
James Coburn, as Britt, was laconic and dangerous, and living on the edge of his blade; competing mostly with himself for the next big thrill. Coburn got the part he wanted, and though he was given minimal dialogue, his deliveries were classic. This set the mold for his future career.
Charles Bronson as Bernardo O'Reilly, half-Irish, half Mexican, was solid as a rock; an experienced stone killer, and yet still a soft touch for the children of the village. His death scene touched us. He found the pulse of his character, and he was both dangerous and decent.
Robert Vaughn, as Lee, seemed uncomfortable and lost. His part had been rewritten, and expanded for him. Yet he seemed ill-suited for the part, and the genre. Even his costume seemed ill-fitting. Part of the problem was that his characters' inability to participate in the first couple of firefights left us with little sympathy for him. Later then, in his scene with the peasants, in which he admitted his fear, the emotions seemed forced and poorly conceived. His last moment heroics and death did little to balance the scales.
Brad Dexter was nearly invisible. He is the one actor in trivia games no one can remember. His character, Harry Luck, with twice the dialogue as Coburn, paled in comparison. Part of it was Dexter himself. He was a bland, middle-of-the-road, B-Movie heavy, and it was odd to cast him, and thrust him in amongst all of those young turks. He did a credible job, but he was completely outshined by the future super stars.
Vladimir Sokoloff, as the village's "old man", gave such a wonderful and touching performance, one did not realize the actor was not Latino. Like Eli Wallach, his talent as an actor transcended ethnic boundaries.
John Sturges, a veteran director of westerns, found just the right balance of action and character. Mexican farmers substituted fine for the original Japanese farmers. And brigands, or bandits, are cut from the same nasty mold no matter what the era, or geography. Kurosawa's classic runs like 3 hours in length, and it gave us much more in-depth character development; so that when these samurai began to die, we cared about them. In 1959, when SEVEN was filmed, three hour westerns were a non-existant species. Elmer Bernstein's musical score was revolutionary, and its pounding stacatto beat has become one of the most recognized pieces of music ever created for film.
This western, always listed in the top 50 best westerns, is a must-see. And the DVD version, in widescreen, is crisp and clear and colorful, and it helps us to recapture that magical feeling we had the first time we saw this film in a movie theatre.