Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Making of The Magnificent Seven

from the great website

Book Review: The Making of "The Magnificent Seven"

In his new book The Making of The Magnificent Seven:Behind the Scenes of the Pivotal Western, author Brian Hannan provides a fascinating look into how the 1959 Western classic reached the silver screen. He also makes a compelling argument that John Sturges' remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai should take its place alongside the more critically-acclaimed Westerns made by John Ford and Howard Hawks.

McQueen removed his hat nine times to draw attention to himself
Hannan divides The Making of The Magnificent Seveninto three parts: (1) the "movie's long genesis"; (2) the actual production and an analysis of the film; and (3) a brief discussion of its release and enduring appeal. The most engrossing chapters are those that deal with its production history.

"It was Anthony Quinn's idea," writes Hannan in his book's first chapter. That alone is likely a revelation to most of the film's fans. Quinn saw Seven Samurai in 1956 and came up with the idea to remake it as a Western. He mentioned it to Yul Brynner as a possible starring vehicle for the two of them. Over the next three years, The Magnificent Seven's journey to the screen would take many unexpected twists along the way.

Hannan meticulously charts Brynner's rise to stardom and his desire to direct. Originally, the actor was set to direct and star in The Buccaneer (1958). In fact, according to a Variety article (quoted by Hannan), Brynner wanted to pull out of the film as its star and only direct, "but DeMille wouldn't have it." Ironically, Anthony Quinn, who was DeMille's son-in-law at the time, was credited as director (although how much he directed vs. DeMille has been debated).

The Spanish poster emphasizes
the numeral "7."
Brynner's and Quinn's plans for The Magnificent Seven hit a major snag when the two discovered that screenwriter Lou Morheim had already bought the remake rights for $2,500 in 1957. Brynner's production company eventually negotiated a deal with Morheim for the rights (the latter is listed as an associate producer in the credits of The Magnificent Seven). Quinn was still interested in starring in the Western, but his salary and billing demands were too great. He eventually dropped out of the production.

Hannan goes to on to explain how John Sturges became attached as director, how the script was penned by six (or seven!) screenwriters, and how one of cinema's greatest casts was assembled. The author notes that the "final piece of 'casting'...was the recruitment of Elmer Bernstein to write the score." Amazingly, Bernstein was not the first choice as the film's composer. He joined the project after Dimitri Tiomkin, Aaron Copeland, and Alex North were considered and rejected.

Hannan's analysis of The Magnificent Seven focuses largely on Sturges' directorial style and a discussion of the film's themes ("Men in professions which cannot change are forced into inevitable collision with an altered world--that, in a nutshell, is the proposition of The Magnificent Seven").

I don't agree with the author's assessment that The Magnificent Seven marked the end of the Ford/Hawks Western era and "sowed the seeds for the films of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood." The 1950s Westerns of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, and Delmer Daves had already paved that road. And while it's a stretch to state that "The Magnificent Seven can certainly lay claim to being the most loved Western," there is no doubt that it remains one of the most popular (as evidenced by its frequent TV broadcasts).

The Making of The Magnificent Seven (McFarland & Company, 277 pages) contains numerous photos, extensive footnotes, a bibliography, and an index. Its strongest virtue is the detailed history of the production. For that reason, we strongly recommend it for fans of The Magnificent Seven. It will also be an engrossing read for any film buff interested in the convoluted processes that go into the making of a movie.

McFarland & Company, Inc. provided a review copy of this book.

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