"It seemed like a good idea at the time": Hollywood, homology and hired guns – the making of The Magnificent Seven

Kerr, Paul ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4835-3708 (2020) "It seemed like a good idea at the time": Hollywood, homology and hired guns – the making of The Magnificent Seven. In: Reframing Cult Westerns: from The Magnificent Seven to The Hateful Eight. Broughton, Lee, ed. Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 21-39. ISBN 9781501343490, e-ISBN 9781501343513, e-ISBN 9781501343506, e-ISBN 9781501343520. [Book Section] (doi:10.5040/9781501343520.0006)

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Vin (Steve McQueen): It’s like this fellow I knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off and jumped in a mess of cactus. I asked him that same question, ‘Why?’
Calvera (Eli Wallach): And?
Vin: He said, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’

Why did The Magnificent Seven (1960) seem “like a good idea at the time?” Conventional film history suggests it simply adapted a pre-tested plot from one national cinema market and genre to another. But that doesn’t explain why Seven Samurai (1954) was adapted when or how it was. By way of an A to Z of film theory’s creation myths – from Auteurism to Zeitgeist - this essay looks at the specific industrial conjuncture of the independent production of the film, by the Mirisch Company (Kerr, 2011). The chapter combines the author’s interviews with the surviving cast and crew, the film’s production files, and contemporary film industry trade papers’ coverage of the production company – and the production itself - with Janet Staiger’s seminal analysis of the package-unit system of production (Bordwell, Thompson, Staiger, 1985). In the absence of a convincing critical case having been made for either the film’s director as an auteur or for American ideology to be reflected – or indeed predicted – by the film, it analyses instead the precise conditions of the film’s production. And it concludes by arguing that The Magnificent Seven wasn’t just one of the first ‘professional’ westerns (Wright, 1975), nor one of the earliest ‘counterinsurgency films’ (Slotkin, 1992), but it was a so-called ‘runaway’ production, made by one of the first and most successful of the major ‘independents’ to emerge in the wake of the demise of the vertically integrated studios (Balio, 1987) – and that those facts are far from unconnected. The protagonists (a team of freelance gunfighters hired to do a job – protect a village) and the filmmakers (a team of freelance employees hired to do a job – produce a film) are mirror images of each other. In doing so it demonstrates how structural homologies find their way into Hollywood’s narrative forms.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Media
Item ID: 27385
Notes on copyright: The full text is a non-final version of the chapter and is not to be cited. The final print version published by Bloomsbury Academic is available via https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/reframing-cult-westerns-9781501343490/
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Depositing User: Paul Kerr
Date Deposited: 24 Jan 2020 14:22
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 18:32
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/27385

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