THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (dir. John Sturges, 1960)
In the beginning of the film the bandits leader Calvera introduces and explains himself to the audience through a conversation with a villager and a random murder upon leaving - we get to know that he is a 100% bad person who enjoys the criminal lifestyle, is proud of his doings and does not think twice before murdering an innocent man - the scene not only establishes him as a villain, but also automatically doubles the heroic factor of whoever will challenge him in the future.
It is safe to say that The Magnificent Seven heavily relies on the spoken language - the lines of the characters are the main means of conveying the meaning. For example, the scene at the bar, when drunk Chiko makes a loud entrance and goes into a long monologue explaining his actions and feelings; the scene mirrors the scene when Kikuchiyo enters the inn late at night, also drunk and shows Kanbei a stolen genealogy tree, but Kurosawa manages to show the internal tension of the character without making him narrate his reasons.
The montage and mise-en-scene hardly leave a room for interpretation. Kurosawa handles the music with great consideration, it is not a detached accompaniment to the on-screen action - although non-diegetic, we can say that the soundtrack exists within the carefully constructed multilayered cinematic reality, individual themes not just compliment the actors’ performances, but add another layer to the characters and the story. The pitfall of using non-diegetic sound is that it can take over, become overwhelming and explicit and leave no room for the audience to feel for themselves. Which I think has happened to The Magnificent Seven - while the music is, no doubt, a masterpiece, the soundtrack plays it’s role so well (perhaps, even better than the montage and the mise-en-scene), that it almost becomes a character of its own. For example, the scene when Chris and Vin take the catafalque to the cemetery - the music mirrors every stage of the short heroic escapade, reminding the viewer to feel excited, then progressively anxious, and, finally, relieved and victorious. Or the scene when Chris and Vin find Lee in their room, it is dark, their faces are illuminated by the spotlights, the shadows play on the walls - the dramatic setting reflects the mysterious and venturesome nature of Lee. He agrees to join their cause and a happy tune erupts.
Akira Kurosawa said that the camera should move when the person moves and should stop when the person stops, but it seems to me that John Sturges took this advice too close to heart. Echoing Kurosawa’s use of the foreground, the middle and the background, Sturges’ evenly distributes the villagers on the planes, but such blocking, instead of giving the shot Kurosawa’s depth, makes them look like cut-outs. Another distinctive mise-en-scene choice in The Seven Samurai was that the villagers were always seen moving as a group, in The Magnificent Seven Sturges employs another tactics - his villagers are slow and often static - they step forward, form geometrical compositions and tend to look paralyzed from the neck down as they speak; in the close-ups you can unmistakably tell who is speaking even if you turn off the sound - the one who speaks is always the one who spreads his hands, the rest are static.
The plot and the characters have been transformed not only to fit the reality of the American West and the genre, but also to fit the audience and, perhaps, to meet the studio expectations. Overall The Magnificent Seven is much more straightforward than The Seven Samurai: we have our heroes - a charismatic leader Chris, his sidekick Vin, wily Harry Luck, shady Lee, skillful Britt, children’s favorite Bernardo and two-in-one Chiko; the enemy is no longer an abstract evil, a mass of faceless bandits - Sturges introduces a rather talkative villain; the love storyline plays a much more important role and for Chiko and his nameless girl there is a Hollywood happy-ending; and every step of the way there is a dialogue explaining the feelings and motives of the characters.