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Guns for Hire featurette 2001

Updated on September 23, 2016

Chronology of Filmmaking at this point

It was made during the Golden Age of Westerns and the rise of TV. Numerous film titles include Rio Bravo (1959), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and Sergio Leoni’s Clint Eastwood Westerns (1970s).

  • John Carpenter (Writer, Director) traced the role of the Western throughout history, including Hollywood and “Italian Spaghetti films” having done in the whole genre. This film was seen as “the last hurrah.”
  • Lawrence Kasdan (Writer, Director) says Seven Samurai is “the greatest film ever made. It’s all of Shakespeare rolled into one film. It’s a great action film. It’s a great character drama, it’s a great moral story. The cinematography, the editing, the music. Fantastic.”

The making of this film is a Hollywood story in itself.

  • Yul Brynner: “It was the greatest Western of all time, made in the Japanese idiom. But, the form and the whole design of it was an ideal Western.”
  • James Coburn: “It was the first Japanese film I’d ever seen…and I took everyone I knew to see it.”

Depending on who you spoke with, there were several people responsible for its development into a Hollywood movie.

  • Mr. Brynner says that he called his lawyer from Tokyo, and asked the lawyer to buy all the rights to the Seven Samurai. The following morning, he received a cable telling him he had all the rights and they were all Mr. Brynner’s. The “whole idea was to make The Magnificent Seven out of it.”
  • Lou Morheim (Associate Producer) beat Mr. Brynner to the punch, and felt that after the Theatre Film Screening, the Seven Samurai would make “a good American Western.” According to a letter addressed from Mr. Morheim to Mr. Goro Usaki of the Toho Company in Los Angeles, California, Mr. Usaki’s movie rights were purchased for $250 by Mr. Morheim, before Mr. Brynner’s purchasing of the movie rights.

o Mr. Morheim also had Mr. Anthony Quinn’s interest in playing the lead role, and at the time, Quinn was directing a movie starring Yul Brynner. Mr. Quinn showed the Seven Samurai to Mr. Brynner and everyone agreed on the making of the film into an American Western.

o It was also agreed upon that Mr. Morheim would produce, and Mr. Brynner directing (he was an accomplished photographer at the time), it was thought to have been a done deal.

  • Doris Brynner, former wife of Yul Brynner, says “he said he *might* direct, but with the producers thinking “Why lose this great actor?”
  • Walter Bernstein (Screenwriter) says he remembers that it has always been Yul in the Director’s seat, and he thinks “He would have been a good one. He was a very good still photographer. He had a very good eye. He understood actors. And it was a shame that he never did.”
  • Mr. Brynner called in Director Martin Ritt, whom he was working on The Sound and The Fury with, to help with The Magnificent Seven. Mr. Ritt hired Mr. Bernstein to write the screenplay, a blacklisted writer who had previously written 2 Westerns. Bernstein’s draft followed closely to the Seven Samurai, with a slight difference in the character’s ages and experiences, and being Civil War veterans (not Gun fighters).

o With casting “The Leader” role, Mr. Bernstein says they had Spencer Tracy in mind, someone older, not as physical as the others.

o Of course, this is Hollywood and that didn’t happen! By the time that Mr. Bernstein had finished his first draft of the Screenplay, Mr. Ritt had left the project.


Now what’s going to happen to the film?

The unmade film passed to Walter M. Mirisch, an independent producer who had experience in this genre, who was located outside of the Hollywood studio system. Considered “a new breed.”

  • Check out Man of the West, starring Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell and Jack Lord; the movie poster says “In the role that fits him like a gun fits a holster!”

Mr. Mirisch used a lot of Freelance professionals to make the film.

  • He called his friend John Sturges, who made the Fight at the OK Corral.
  • Mr. Mirisch had concluded signing the first property to be used for filming, and were interviewing possible Screenwriters for the film. Mr. Sturges suggested Mr. Walter Newman, who had penned scripts for Ace in the Hole and The Man with the Golden Arm.
  • Mr. Sturges then wanted sole credit as Producer on the movie, upsetting Mr. Morheim, who filed a lawsuit, because he still wanted to be affiliated with the film, bringing it along from its pre-production stages. The Mirisch Company and United Artists came to him and wanted an undisclosed settlement amount, and Mr. Morheim’s name in the final credits would be reduced from Producer to Associate Producer. Mr. Morheim was happy with this arrangement, as he was unsure about his outcome inside the Courtroom. He had no further involvement in bringing the film to the screen.
  • Mr. Anthony Quinn sued Brynner and United Artists for $650,000 in damages, with Quinn losing the lawsuit.

Mr. Sturges would be forever credited with finding The Magnificent Seven. Mr. Brynner said that Mr. Sturges was the one who picked the remaining actors for the film.

  • Robert Relyea (Assistant Director) quoted Mr. Sturges’ “When you cast in a picture, be careful of the gut, not the head” meaning that the bulk of the story should be carried by the actors, not the stars.
  • Steve McQueen has already worked in TV series with Sturges, as had Charles Bronson and Brad Dexter (Last Train from Gun Hill). Steve McQueen faked an accident on his TV series, in order to take time off to make the movie, as recalled by Niele McQueen Toffel, former wife of Steve McQueen.
  • Horst Buchholz, a German actor, casted to play Chico, raised a lot of jokes about Easterners being in a Western film (“I was always waiting for Yul, because he wasn’t that fast with his gun”).
  • Eli Wallach, a Broadway actor, was casted as Calvera, the Mexican Bandit chief. According to Mr. Wallach, he was doing a film in California at the time, and received a phone call to meet with Director Sturges, no reading for the role. During a brief discussion, Mr. Wallach had already seen the Seven Samurai, and asked what role did Mr. Sturges see him playing? After comparing himself to the original role in the Seven Samurai, he thought it “was a dull role.” Sturges urged him to read the script, and after reading it, Wallach accepted the role, once he realized that most of the script entailed “talking about Calvera & his men riding into town.”
  • According to Robert Vaughn as “The Gambler Lee,” he recalls that Yul Brynner and Steve were already casted, and there was an Actor’s Strike to occur at 5pm, Friday afternoon. Mr. Vaughn has just been nominated for the Academy Award (February 1960), and his agent called him and said “You’ve gotta get over and see John Sturges. Can’t guarantee that you’ll get a part, but after having been nominated for an Award, we could make the role worthwhile for you.”

o Mr. Vaughn ran into James Coburn and said “You know, they’re casting over here for The Magnificent Seven.” Both were friends from Los Angeles City College, and ran into each other at the grocery store, traded notes, and Mr. Coburn had his agent setup a meeting with Mr. Sturges.

  • At their meeting, Mr. Sturges said there was one remaining part that hadn’t been cast, which was Britt, the Knifeman. Mr. Coburn likened this role to the one of “the greatest swordsman” in the Seven Samurai. When he went home, he told his wife (at the time), that “I have a chance to play the role that I’ve always wanted to play!” at 3:30pm, he received a call from Mr. Sturges: “Okay, Jim, come on over & pick up your knives!”


Adaptation of Seven Samurai

Being familiar with Kurosawa’s work, before it was adapted into the Screenplay, this came as no surprise when the main characters were being signed onto contract, in the middle of 1960 Hollywood Actor’s Strike. Being one of the few films that squeaked through the deadline of the 1960 Actors’ Guild Strike, with the actors being casted (contracts signed) before the deadline, the production moved to Mexico, instead of shooting in California. There were multiple reasons for this:

  • The previous year, a film called Vera Cruz, starring Gary Cooper. This film did not portray Mexican people in a positive light, so the Producers were careful to use a female Censor during the filming of The Magnificent Seven. When Vera Cruz was shown, the Mexican people ripped the chairs out of the theatre and threw it at the screen (“No more American movies!”). The female Censor had a problem with the premise of The Magnificent Seven.
  • The Magnificent Seven was shot on-location in Tunavaca, where the 2 sets were built: Border Town and Village, because of lack of access to the Studio Lot.
  • For this film, Mexican actors were given Key and technical roles, in a bid to smooth relations between the 2 parties (Yankee filmmakers and the Mexican government).
  • According to Rosenda Monteros, the actress playing Petra, she remembers that the script had to be rechecked and revised very carefully, to “make sure there were no images that were denigrating to the country.”

o The female Censor had a major change to the script, where instead of finding Gringo Gunfighters, the Villagers were to buy guns for themselves (due to national pride issue of the time).

o This is a Pivotal scene, involving the 3 Villagers and Chris, where they are discussing the Gun issue, inside of Chris’ room. This is where the hiring of Gunmen enters the Story.

o John Alonzo, who played Miguel, said the agreement between US & Mexican suits, “was not to portray the Peasants in a bad light.” Being bi-lingual, Mr. Alonzo was one of the few who could communicate and translate.

o According to Mr. Coburn, the female Censor wanted the Peasants to be “clean” in their wardrobe, so this meant that their white outfits had to be relaundered, and “the Gunslingers were even dirtier than the peasants!”

o Ms. Monteros said that in the co-production, most of the issues were resolved quickly, as both parties wanted to finish the film as soon as possible.


Filming begins

March 1, 1960 is when filming began.

  • Not only was the female Censor going to be a problem!
  • The players were all vying for “Top Dog” as male actors of the time were wanting to be the Only Male. There was also likeability on the set, while not filming, they became friends (“Awful lot of poker. Lots of drinking and eating Mexican food”).

o Director John turned to Assistant Director Robert and said “Can you believe we’re going to be doing this for 6 or 8 weeks?”

o “The set was filled with testerone.” - Niele McQueen Toffel

o “There was a rivalry between Steve and Yul.” – Brad Dexter as “Harry Luck”

o Robert Vaughn recalls that everyone wanted to “best Brynner, which is what it came down to. To take the picture away from Brynner.”

o Steve McQueen even fought about the size of Brynner’s gun and horse, along with competition with Buchholz (“Steve McQueen. I couldn’t take his guts”).

  • The Bull Scene was not even in the script, but Sturges left it in!
  • All the actors loved playing Cowboy! Including the Assistant Director!
  • The Gun Thing became a joke among who could “do it best.”
  • Some of the older pictures showed groupings.

o the McQueens with Bronson

o Brynner & Dexter gambling real money when playing Gin Rummy

o Wallach’s adoption by the Bandit Gang

o and the Eventual Marriage of Yul & Doris Brynner (which is shown as the Village Party in the film).

  • At the time, most of the stars thought the film was going to “flop.”

o The film was a General release from United Artists, playing for about a week.

o In Europe, it was a big hit!

o With the replay in America, it then became a hit. Ever since.

It was such a great adaptation of Kurosawa’s work, which I remember seeing in my early film days, as Mr. Kurosawa’s work is phenomenal, and has paved the way for much modern storytelling. In fact, a lot of the great Western backdrop, music and visuals lend credit to The Magnificent Seven. One of Kurosawa’s influences was John Ford. Mr. Kurosawa called and complimented Mr. Sturges on his work on the film, once it was released.

Musical Score

Elmer Bernstein (Composer) said some of his influences include folk music, Native American. He was asked to compose the music by Mr. Sturges. There was live orchestra playing the musical theme, which has become truly memorable in Western filmmaking. “The tune was less interesting, but the rhythmic undertone is what drives it.”

“A great score lifts the whole movie up three notches. Elmer Bernstein’s score is truly the best Western score there ever was.” – Lawrence Kasdan

Everyone who has either starred in the film, or commented on it, felt the musical score was integral to the Opening Sequence. And carries the film forward.

The musical score was nominated for an Academy Award.


What about the Screenplay?

“It’s a wonderful script. Very economical. I’ve seen the film 25 times, and each time, I can’t believe how economical the script is.” – Lawrence Kasdan

According to Mr. Morheim, Walter Newman’s version of the script is what was really seen on the screen, but was uncredited. The screen credit went to William Roberts, because Mr. Newman decided to pull his credit, due to numerous re-writes on the set, Censors, and traveling to Mexico.

William Roberts joined the Mexico set as a Script Doctor. Later on, with arbitration of the Writer’s Guild, it was decided that Roberts had done enough on the Screenplay to be listed as a Joint Screenwriter (co-writing credit). Rather than share a co-credit, Mr. Newman wanted exclusive credit, and decided to remove his name from the film.

Why was this film significant?

Chazz Palminteri (Actor, Writer) defines the difference between Westerns of the past (“Shot em ups”) and this film’s treatment of the morality of being a gunslinger, in the time the film was made. A timeless piece.

Now, go see the 1960 Film and pause me here…

The success of this film led to 3 sequels:

  • Return of the Seven (1966) “They’re back in a Magnificent New Adventure!” starring Yul Brynner and produced by Mirisch Productions Inc.
  • Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969), presented by The Mirisch Production Company. Now starring Academy Award winner George Kennedy (Best Supporting Actor in 1968’s Cool Hand Luke).
  • and The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972).

A TV series was made, and you can hum the same tune! The TV titling are what is used in the 2016 film version.

  • It set the elements of the Western, Action/Adventure films, from that point forward. I notice some of the movie poster imagery is used to this day.
  • Launched the careers of most of the actors who were in the film (“First shot in a big movie.”).
  • “A story with universal resonance. It lifts the genre from out of the pack.” – Lawrence Kasdan

Great Western One Liners

  • “You must fight. Fight!”
  • “That was the greatest shot I’ve ever seen!” and “The worst…I was aiming at the horse!” – Britt and Chico
  • “No enemies?” “Alive…” – Chris and Lee The Gambler
  • “Why?” “It seemed to be a good idea at the time.” – Caldera and Vin
  • “The Old Man was right. Only the Farmers won. We lost. We always lose.” - Chris to Vin
  • “They were only Seven, who fought like 700.” – Movie Theme
  • “Once you’ve met them, you’ll never forget them!” – Movie Trailer


Other Suggested Films to check out

1. Ralph Nelson’s Duel at Diablo – whose movie poster says “The outrider, The loner, the lieutenant, the outcast bride, Her husband…afraid to turn their backs on each other – they fought side by side against the Indian!). starring James Garner, Sidney Poitier.

2. David L. Wolper’s The Bridge at Remagen – whose movie poster says “The Germs forgot one little bridge. Sixty-one days later they the war.” Starring George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Ben Cazarra.

3. Cannon for Cordoba. “They aimed him at Cordoba’s fortress, and pulled the trigger! The army followed, to pick up the pieces!” Starring George Peppard.

4. John Sturges’ The Great Escape. Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough. With James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasance, James Coburn and John Lexton. Presented by The Mirisch Company. Based upon the book.

What happened to everyone?

According to the 2001 featurette’s credits:

  • Yul Brynner died of cancer in 1985.
  • Steve McQueen died of cancer in 1980.
  • Charles Bronson made the Death Wish movies.
  • James Coburn won an Oscar for “Affliction.”
  • Robert Vaughan became The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  • Horst Buchholz returned to European movies.
  • Brad Dexter became a film producer.
  • Eli Wallach is still acting on stage and screen.

As always, it helps if you see the 1960 original film! If your time permits…Pam


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