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As noted in the opening credits, The Magnificent Seven was based on a 1954 Japanese film entitled The Seven Samurai, produced by Toho Company, Ltd. The now classic film was directed by Akira Kurosawa, who stated that his film was inspired by American Westerns. According to a October 17, 1958 Daily Variety news item, Yul Brynner registered the title The Magnificent Six when he believed one of the principals would be dropped from the film.
As supported by contemporary news items and described in the documentary Guns for Hire: The Making of `The Magnificent Seven', which was included on the 2001 DVD edition of the film, by May 1958 Brynner's Alciona Productions, Inc. had secured the rights to The Seven Samurai and announced that Brynner was to star in the film and United Artists would distribute it. A August 22, 1958 Daily Variety news item stated that producer Lou Morheim was to co-produce the film, while in the documentary, Morheim claimed that he had originally optioned the rights to The Seven Samurai and had asked actor Anthony Quinn to star. By February 1959, contemporary news items had reported that Quinn was on board and Brynner was set to direct, while Walter Bernstein was signed to write the screenplay and Clark Gable, Stewart Granger and Anthony Franciosa were being considered for lead roles. In April 1959, Martin Ritt became the director, replacing Brynner, who took the lead role, according to a Los Angeles Times news item, which also noted that Glenn Ford had agreed to appear in the picture.
By August 1959, Brynner had sold the project to The Mirisch Company, who in turn hired Walter Newman to write the screenplay and arranged to co-produce the film with Alpha Productions, John Sturges' company. The Magnificent Seven was Sturges' first credit as a producer, the first film for Alpha Productions and the first collaboration between Alpha and The Mirisch Company, a partnership which led to many co-ventures. By December 1959, Dean Jones was considered for a role and executive producer Walter Mirisch had hired Steve McQueen, an actor already known for his role in the 1958-1961 television series Wanted Dead or Alive. In the documentary, McQueen's then wife, Neile Adams, stated that McQueen faked a car accident in order to gain time off the series to do the film. Sturges' final cast selections were complicated by the Screen Actors Guild strike, which ran from 7 March to 18 April 1960.
According to a February 4, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, Mirisch-Alpha sought a court agreement with Morheim to exclude him from the project, but provide compensation amounting to five percent of the film's profits and a $10,000 salary. A March 2, 1960 Daily Variety article stated that, after Sturges demanded sole producer credit, Morheim sued Mirisch and UA for onscreen credit and to be able to participate in the film. By August 23, 1960, Hollywood Reporter reported that an out of court settlement had been reached in which Morheim was given financial compensation and an "associate producer" credit, but excluded from participation. According to a February 3, 1960 Hollywood Reporter news item, Quinn sued Alciona and Brynner over being excluded from the project, to which he claimed he had already contributed and in which he was supposed to star. Quinn lost the suit, but in 1964 filed suit against UA, Mirisch and Alpha Productions. The outcome of that suit is unknown.
Writer Newman was not credited onscreen, and a modern source claims that he was so unhappy that William Roberts was hired to doctor his script on location in Mexico that he insisted on having his name removed from the credits. According to a April 10, 1960 New York Times article, Mirisch-Alpha budgeted $2,000,000 for the film, which began shooting on February 29, 1960, and shot on two village sets built by art director Edward FitzGerald, one in Tepoztlan, Mexico and the other in Oacalco, Mexico. All interior shooting took place at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City. The article also noted that the village chapel was made of ppier mach and adorned with two fake pigeons to encourage others to nest there and make the structure appear authentic.
An international group of actors fleshed out the cast. Horst Buchholz, a German, made his American film debut as the Mexican "Chico." The role, according to the April 10, 1960 New York Times article, was created to appease the Mexican government, by placing a Mexican character as one of the seven. Mexican actor Rosenda Monteros made her American film debut in the The Magnificent Seven. Prominent cinematographer John Alonzo (1934-2001), who began his career as an actor, made his feature film debut in The Magnificent Seven, credited onscreen as "John Alonso." Jan, February and March 1960 Hollywood Reporter news items add David Renard, Joe Ruskin, Larry Duran, Chuck Hayward and Beatriz Flores Castro to the cast; however, their appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
According to interviews in Guns for Hire, the presence of a Mexican censor on the production caused tension and ensured some scene changes. A May 20, 1960 New York Times article confirmed that one required change was that character of the "old man" was not to advise the villagers to hire gunmen. The revised script, instead, has the old man suggest that the villagers buy guns and defend their town to the death and then has the villagers vainly try to buy them at the border, until "Chris" suggests they hire gunmen instead.
The Mirisch Company produced and UA distributed three sequels to the film: 1966's Return of the Seven (see below) starring Yul Brynner and Robert Fuller and directed by Burt Kennedy; 1969's Guns of the Magnificent Seven starring George Kennedy and James Whitmore and directed by Paul Wendkos and the 1972 production The Magnificent Seven Ride! (see below), starring Lee Van Cleef and Stefanie Powers and directed by George McCowan. In addition, M-G-M produced a 1998-2000 television series starring Michael Biehn and Eric Close, with guest star appearances by Robert Vaughn.
Many contemporary reviews of the film were not supportive, including the New York Times, which stated that the film was "a pallid, pretentious and overlong reflection of the Japanese original." According to the documentary, UA later rereleased The Magnificent Seven with better results; however, box-office results of this rerelease have not been determined. Over the years, many critics and film historians have come to rank the film as one of the best Westerns of all time. Elmer Bernstein's stirring score was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Exodus. The theme reached iconographic status with fans and film music historians and was made popular through its use in radio and television advertising for Marlboro Cigarettes, which, as noted in a May 24, 1966 New York Times article, bought the rights to the theme from UA. In June 2006, the Weinstein Co. announced that it was in negotiations to remake Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, with Zhang Ziyi being considered to star.