First of all, man, I am never gonna get that theme song out of my head. It’s on the original and the three sequels and on this remake it’s just on the end credits, other than some sly hints at its rhythm adapted to percussion and that exotic flute type thing that modern film composers love. But it’s so catchy and I’ve heard it so many times this last week or two that it’s burned onto my brain like what used to happen to TVs if you left it on a DVD menu all day. Thanks alot, Elmer Bernstein.
In Antoine Fuqua’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, we have a small town in Kansas (not Mexico) being threatened by a wealthy land baron (not bandits) who comes in with a bunch of killers, and makes a shitty, non-negotiable offer for their land, that he says they can accept or be killed when he comes back in three weeks. And he makes this threat at gunpoint inside the church! Not cool.
This opening shows the dangers of normal people standing up to these bullies: they quickly execute the first guy who does it, and this escalates into a massacre. This asshole Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) tells the in-his-pocket-out-of-fear sheriff to leave the bodies where they are, burns down the church and stops by the whorehouse on the way out. (read the rest of this shit…)
Don’t get your hopes up as high as I did, but SEVEN WARRIORS is kind of cool because it’s the 1989 Hong Kong take on the SEVEN SAMURAI story. So that means the version with the most complex and acrobatic action.
I had been under the impression it was a Sammo Hung movie, which is not accurate. The credited director, Terry Tong, has a total of nine directing credits, mostly movies that have not made it to the States. He has bit parts in DANGEROUS ENCOUNTERS OF THE FIRST KIND and TWIN DRAGONS, so maybe he is a Sammo associate, and maybe IMDb has a reason to list Sammo as co-director. But the credits and other reference sources do not. He does have a small cameo in the opening scene, which is a weird place for a cameo. It’s a much smaller part than Bruce Campbell in CONGO.
The screenwriter is Kan-Cheung Tsang, who wrote ROYAL WARRIORS and a bunch of Stephen Chow’s movies including SHAOLIN SOCCER and MERMAID. He sets this version in “the Warlord Era” or “Chaotic Era” of China, when veterans wander around as mercenaries or thieves, some of them led by hairy-mole-faced Piu (Lo Lieh, CLAN OF THE WHITE LOTUS) to terrorize and extort a defenseless village. So of course a couple of the villagers go into town and they find Chi (Adam Cheng, ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN), a once respected, now alcoholic commander who was in the war with Piu, to gather up some of his old troops. They’re a colorful set of characters, the most impressive being the suave knife thrower and Karl, the big blacksmith who walks away from repairing some lady’s pan the second the Commander asks for help. He carries around a giant spiked club, almost as big as a person, which is enjoyable in any genre. We could use more of those in cinema. (read the rest of this shit…)
Enough with the cowboys. THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS is the sword and sorcery version of the SEVEN SAMURAI story. Obviously.
An evil Ming-the-Merciless-Halloween-costume-looking-motherfucker named Nicerote (Dan Vadis from EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN) who apparently has some kind of magic sorcerer powers threatens his own mother (Barbara Pesante) that he’s gonna come back and attack the village after the harvest. What a brat. So she sends Pandora (Carla Ferrigno [BLACK ROSES] in her movie debut) and three other women into town with “the mystical Sword of Achilles,” which can only be held by the worthy. Find somebody worthy and get him to come protect the village.
They find Han (Lou Ferrigno, also in his first movie, though he’d already done six seasons of The Incredible Hulk), a gladiator who is said to be immortal, but it’s not really explained very well. I guess he’s not strong or immortal enough to do it on his own, so he has to put together a team which includes some gladiator friends and a badass cynical mercenary lady named Julia (Sybil Danning, who had already been in the space version of SEVEN SAMURAI, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS). (read the rest of this shit…)
The final MAGNIFICENT SEVEN sequel came 12 years after the original from Canadian-born TV director George McCowan, after doing FROGS the same year. Screenwriter Arthur Rowe had also done mostly TV, including a few westerns like The Range Rider and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. This time Lee Van Cleef takes over as Chris Adams, but if they didn’t say his name it would be easy to not realize he was the same character.
The opening is reminiscent of the much better sequel HIGH NOON PART II, because now Chris is a marshal in the Arizona territory and he’s using his recent marriage as an excuse not to use his magnificence to help bounty hunter Jim Mackay (Ralph Waite, The Waltons, CLIFFHANGER) defend a Mexican border town from bandits like he used to do in the old days. He’s not like that anymore, and all their magnificent buddies are dead or in jail. Some of them he put there.
Supposedly he even owes Jim one, but not from some incident we saw in one of the other movies, since this is not a character we’ve seen before. Continuity opportunities are also missed when Chris is asked about his legendary exploits and they have none of them are things he did in the other movies. This could’ve been an unrelated western they changed into a sequel right before filming. (read the rest of this shit…)
Man, they could keep on making these Magnificent Seven movies forever. I don’t blame ’em because they got somebody as cool as Yul Brynner as Chris Adams, they just have to find different actors to surr–
Oh shit, he’s not in this one. He was in four movies that year, including an uncredited bit part in drag in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, but he decided he was not the part 3 type. Taking over as Chris Adams is George Kennedy, who had won an Oscar for COOL HAND LUKE two years earlier (Brynner had won his four years before the first MAGNIFICENT SEVEN).
I have to admit I had low expectations for Kennedy. He’s a good character actor, but almost always as a utility player, as some sheriff or captain or sleazy bad guy, not the badass hero. Which, I should’ve known, would make this special. As soon as he shows up in the movie, barrel chested, cocky, even kind of handsome, leaning casually as a fence as he interrupts the hanging of a horse thief. He completely changed my whole image of him. (read the rest of this shit…)
aka RETURN OF THE SEVEN
Six years after THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN they got tired of waiting for a SEVEN SAMURAI 2 to remake and just went ahead and made up a new story called RETURN OF THE SEVEN (now available on video with magnificence added to the title). John Sturges was not involved. The director, Burt Kennedy, was a fencing double who became a writer with SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and then director with THE CANADIANS. He directed numerous westerns (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF!, HANNIE CAULDER) but also the first version of THE KILLER INSIDE ME and the only version of SUBURBAN COMMANDO.
But the name on the credits that gave me hope was the writer, future under-recognized genius of horror, blaxploitation and suspense Larry Cohen. In fact, this was his big screen debut after some years in television, during which he created and wrote the western series Branded.
The opening, introducing the plight of another (or maybe the same?) Mexican village at the hands of another group of Mexican bandits (all of the men are run off into the desert at gunpoint) is dishearteningly dull. But this is our connection to the first film – Chico (Horst Buchholz), the young fighter who stayed to live in the village because he fell in love with Petra (Rosenda Monteros), is one of the men captured, so Petra knows to go try to find the great Chris Adams to help. (read the rest of this shit…)
Man, you’re looking for a movie with seven dudes who possess some level of magnificence, you could do worse than John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960). I wouldn’t personally use the adjective “magnificent” to describe any cowboys, but if I did then Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn would be good candidates. And Robert Vaughn wouldn’t be out of the question. That there is a hell of a cast, and then they’re facing off against Eli Wallach in a more large-and-in-charge character than he usually plays as Calvera, the leader of a gang of bandits terrorizing a small Mexican village. He’s one of these bullies who gets across his true evil by doing a really unconvincing fake nice guy act to your face. He keeps saying how much he loves the village in the process of threatening it. Make Cuernavaca great again!
This is, of course, a remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, so some of these poor farmers go into town looking for gunmen. Brynner plays Chris Adams, the first one they find, who becomes leader and recruiter. That’s funny, ’cause he’s bald just like the impostor monk Kambei, but not for any narrative reason (and he wears a hat anyway). He’s introduced as a bystander who intervenes when the local funeral home director won’t take a rich traveler’s money to bury an Indian on Boot Hill. He says he wouldn’t have any problem with it (some of his best friends are Indians buried in white cemeteries), but he’s scared of the local whites who he knows won’t stand for it.
Chris proposes that he drive the hearse, and then another drifter onlooker, Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen), calls shotgun (oh yeah, that’s where that term comes from). The crowd follows along, watching in awe, as the two drive up the hill while fending off racist snipers. (read the rest of this shit…)
There are some movies that everybody knows are great and you’d be a fool to deny it. One such movie involves a group of cooperating samurai numbering seven. This is their review.
1954 was a pretty good year for film. Many of the films that were popular in the U.S. are still watched and discussed today: REAR WINDOW, WHITE CHRISTMAS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, CARMEN JONES. The best picture/director/actor/supporting actress winner was ON THE WATERFRONT, a movie that turned out to be, you know, fairly influential for actors. In Japan, meanwhile, the two biggest hits were WHAT IS YOUR NAME?: PART 3 and CHUSHINGURA: HANA NO MAKI, YUKI NO MAKI. I don’t think those ever made it to video over here, and little information exists about them in my usual reference sources. The first one appears to be a romance sequel and the latter sounds like it would have something to do with the 47 RONIN story.
In third place at the Japanese box office that year, though, was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI. It was his fifteenth movie, but his first samurai movie. Would you believe it made more money than the original GODZILLA, which also came out that year? Doesn’t matter now. Both have persevered. And SEVEN SAMURAI is a movie justifiably worshiped by snooty film buffs (and in the Criterion Collection) while still being hugely influential in all the lower-brow genres I love: martial arts, westerns and straight up action.
People always complain about long movies, but here’s a nearly 3 1/2 hour one (the longest of Kurosawa’s career) that’s never a chore to watch. It’s a great story, simple and elegant, but it takes the time to let us get to know its characters, and to give us that feeling of waiting. Some day after the barley is harvested bandits will attack the village. We want that day to come and be over with but we also want all the time we can to get ready.
If you haven’t seen this movie, I’m proud to be the latest one to remind you that you need to see this movie. You need to. Everybody else, you know the story, but let’s go over it in case it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES is the earliest movie I’ve seen about veterans coming home from war and having trouble readjusting, and very different from the other ones. If it was made after Iraq and Afghanistan it might’ve been a sun-drenched support-the-troops true tale of sacrifice like AMERICAN SNIPER. If it was after Vietnam it might’ve been a dark but entertaining genre tale, like ROLLING THUNDER or FIRST BLOOD. But this was 1946, right after World War II, so it’s a beautiful black and white ensemble drama directed by William Wyler (BEN-HUR) and shot by Gregg Toland (CITIZEN KANE).
It’s the story of three men fresh back from the war. Army captain and bombardier Fred Derry (Dana Andrews, GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK) can’t get a flight back to his home town of Boone City, but a woman at the airline desk points him to where he can catch a ride on an army plane. He has to wait around for hours, but ends up in the nose of a bomber with sailor Homer Parrish (Harold Russell, INSIDE MOVES) and infantry sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March, …TICK …TICK …TICK). They marvel over the view of America and bond over what they did in the war, and who and what they’re coming back to.
They get home and we follow each of them as they return to their families, try to find jobs, try to make regular life work again. For the most part their loved ones are thrilled to have them back, and will do anything they can to support them. And many people see their medals and treat them as heroes. Al is welcomed back at the bank where he worked, to almost an uncomfortable “we want to show off that we have a veteran on staff” level. Fred not as much. The drugstore has been taken over by a chain who will only hire him back as assistant to his old assistant when he was a soda jerk. (read the rest of this shit…)
LIFEFORCE is a crazy fuckin movie, my third or fourth favorite from director Tobe Hooper. Three years after POLTERGEIST and one before THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 he made this distinctly weird but effective sci-fi horror film, his first of three Golan and Globus productions.
Based on a 1976 novel called Space Vampires by Colin Wilson, it is about exactly that. Astronauts on a British space shuttle mission to study Halley’s Comet find themselves landing on a weird flower-shaped object and discovering hundreds (maybe thousands) of dessicated corpses of giant space bats. But also they find three naked humanoids hibernating in glass cases, much like the underwear girls behind the front desk at the Standard Hotel.
Most people, including myself, sometimes refer to this as NAKED SPACE VAMPIRES. But another good title would be DON’T BRING SHIT BACK FROM SPACE. But this is a momentous discovery, so understandably the astronauts want to get some samples, including all three of the humanoids. And I don’t want to give anything away so I will just say it is possible that they will come to Earth and scientists will have many great breakthroughs from studying them and there will be numerous benefits for mankind. That is one possibility. (read the rest of this shit…)