Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on March 18, 2010
All month long TCM has been celebrating the 100th birthday of Akira Kurosawa and playing many of the director’s best films. On Sunday TCM will also be showing one of my favorite westerns, John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) which happens to be based on Kurosawa’s classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). If you haven’t had the opportunity to see THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN it’s a great time to catch up with this entertaining movie.
One of my favorite things about John Sturges’ film is its incredible theme composed by the legendary Elmer Bernstein. Elmer Bernstein is responsible for some of Hollywood’s greatest film scores but his theme for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is one of the most recognizable pieces of music he ever recorded.
When Sturges’ film was originally released in 1960 it quickly became a hit. Audiences loved it and it’s no wonder why. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN has an impressive cast that includes Steve McQueen, Yul Brenner, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter and Horst Buchholz in some of their best roles and the movie’s inspiring tale of a group of restless outsiders coming together to save a defenseless village is timeless. Elmer Bernstein’s score for the film was nominated for an Oscar in 1961 but for some strange reason United Artists didn’t release the soundtrack. Elmer Bernstein’s original score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN wouldn’t find its way onto vinyl until 1966 following the release of the film’s sequel, RETURN OF THE SEVEN.
This didn’t stop other artists from releasing their own versions of Elmer Bernstein’s theme in the interim. In 1961 guitarist Al Caiola recorded a popular version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme that became his first hit single in the US. Across the pond, the celebrated composer John Barry was also recording his own version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN with his group The John Barry Seven. His modern rendition of the theme became a minor hit in the UK.
Later in the decade Marlboro cigarettes started using THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme to advertise their products. In a somewhat unfortunate turn of events, Elmer Bernstein indirectly helped create the image of the rough and tough smoking cowboy that became synonymous with the image of a “Marlboro Man.” I say unfortunate because three of the male models who appeared in Marlboro ads during the ’60s ended up dead due to complications from lung cancer presumably caused by smoking. It’s probably also worth noting that two of the stars of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner) died much too early from different forms of lung cancer and director John Sturges along with actor Brad Dexter both suffered from emphysema.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme was also used to great effect by soul artists Arthur Conley and Otis Redding. They borrowed some parts of Elmer Bernstein’s memorable score for the hit song they wrote together in 1966, “Sweet Soul Music.”
In the ’80s members of the British band The Clash seemed to find a lot of inspiration in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. They titled one of the songs from their 1980 record Sandinista! after the film and in 1988 Clash member Mick Jones recorded an original version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme called “Keep Off the Grass” with his band Big Audio Dynamite.
Elmer Bernstein’s incredible score for THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN has undoubtedly inspired many other artists and it will continue to do so in the future. A quick search on Youtube turned up various interpretations of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN theme. One of my favorites was performed by the children of the Cempaka School Orchestra in Malaysia proving that Elmer Bernstein’s music can still appeal to people of all ages in every corner of the globe.
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