ARTS

  /  

October 31, 2006

In Case You Missed It—October 31, 2006

Let’s get one thing straight: Citizen Kane is really boring. I recognize that it is one of the greatest movies ever, a defining moment in cinema history. I recognize that without Citizen Kane, movies wouldn’t be anything like they are now. I recognize that almost everything about every movie since Citizen Kane stole something from Citizen Kane—be it the camera angles, the shooting style, the crazy timeline, or the surprise twist ending. But in a world where movies without at least half a dozen high-powered weapons, three car chases, and 37 scenes of sexuality will elicit yawns, Citizen Kane is, to put it bluntly, too damn old. Most movies that are more than 40 years old, despite being excellent films, are boring if for no other reason than we’ve seen it all before in the hundreds of movies since that have copied them.

But there are some movies that maintain their thrill and dynamism despite being over the hill. Some manage to break out of the adult diapers to put on a really spectacular show that reminds us that no matter what their age, these movies are compelling in any time period.

Movies: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

I’m no sucker for cowboy movies, and even less so for one that copies a Kurosawa masterpiece. First of all, what is there that this movie could possibly give me that I haven’t gotten from dozens of other Westerns? Second, what could this movie possibly give me that improves on The Seven Samurai? As it turns out, plenty.

First off, this movie is not The Seven Samurai. While some of the themes are decidedly similar, and some of the scenes unfold in an almost identical fashion, The Magnificent Seven is a uniquely western and uniquely American variation on Samurai. The gunmen here know nothing of Samurai bushido or etiquette, and aren’t so much concerned with formality or propriety. They operate on an individualistic system of honor and respect, tempered by a quiet resignation to their lonely lives and a cynical sense of humor. And that’s one thing that really sets The Magnificent Seven apart. It’s not just a straightforward, shoot-’em-up adventure. The gunmen repeatedly muse on their motivations. In them, we do not see an invincible gunman image, but a group of seven men (old and young) battling mortality and loneliness.

In all honesty, The Magnificent Seven is not truly spectacular. It’s not better than The Seven Samurai (though finishing second to Kurosawa is no real shame). While it does have more depth than the average Western, it isn’t exceptionally insightful. But what puts The Magnificent Seven above the competition is the fact that it seems like the ultimate Western. The Magnificent Seven has everything a western is supposed to have—the lone gunman, the bad guy, the exciting gunfights. But you don’t just get one lone hero, you get seven. And you don’t just have some random Hollywood actors, you have Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Steven McQueen—some of the greatest action stars of their day—working together in top form. And you don’t just have the setup from some random story, you have the (reworked) plot from a Kurosawa movie.

I find that The Magnificent Seven is often grossly underrated. Very few people have heard of it and even fewer have seen it. That includes people who have the box set of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and want to ride with the reins in their teeth and both revolvers blazing. Even people who insist that their sons call them Rooster Cogburn while out hunting haven’t seen The Magnificent Seven. But fortunately, I am here to help by promoting it in a semi-popular campus publication named after a semi-popular color. So go buy the DVD.

Movies: The Maltese Falcon (1941)

You would think that detective dramas would get especially old with age. There are only so many plot twists, whodunits, and noirish setups in this world, and to a generation raised on CSI and Law & Order, you wonder just how suspenseful a 65-year-old thriller could be.

The Maltese Falcon is a little predictable; we’ve seen it all before, and its ending really isn’t that surprising. Yet, what makes this a classic is its sheer style. No one can do private eye quite like Bogart. His sly, self-serving, and yet strangely honorable character couldn’t have been pulled off by any other actor, past or present. If The Maltese Falcon were produced today, it would be dull and lifeless without the unique style of Bogart and 1940s cinema.

There’s really not much else to say about The Maltese Falcon; it’s hard to find someone who would disagree with its greatness. I mentionit here for two reasons: It’s often lost in the shadow of Casablanca, which came out a year later, and the Special Edition DVD was just recently released.

That’s all for this week. As always, I’m open to any and all suggestions. Just e-mail me at bmw940@uchicago.edu.