In the 1970s and '80s, Americans seemed somewhat hung up on finding warriors as cool as Japanese samurai and ninjas.
But back in the 1950s and '60s, it seems filmmakers knew the American equivalent: Gunslingers.
That, at least, is what we might derive from John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven (1960) and its source material, The Seven Samurai (1954). In both stories, a band of seven elite fighters is enlisted to protect communities besieged by marauders.
Samurai was written and directed by Japanese filmmaking legend Akira Kurosawa and is routinely included on lists of the greatest movies ever made. The Kentucky Theatre shows The Magnificent Seven on its Summer Classics series at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. today. The theater actually showed the Seven Samurai as part of the Rosa Goddard International Film Festival last September, so if you saw the Kurosawa masterpiece last year, you can do a direct comparison of the big screen classics.
In most circles, Samurai fares better. While Magnificent Seven is seen as a classic western, it doesn't quite carry the ground-breaking, all-time great cachet of its Japanese counterpart. Having not been around when Magnificent debuted, it seems a little odd to have Yul Brynner as the leader of a band of gunslingers including Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. All of them went on to noteworthy tough-guy careers, and while Brynner's filmography does include a number of Westerns (including the dreadful Return of the Seven in 1966), he is best known as the King of Siam and Pharaoh.
One thing that is undeniably classic about the Magnificent Seven is Elmer Bernstein's iconic, Oscar-nominated score.
I've included the trailers from both films, Magnificent Seven above and Seven Samurai below, if you want to do some trailer comparisons.