Friday, September 18, 2015
In July, Turner Classic Movies, my indispensable source for movies, ran two 1950 films by Akira Kurosawa that demonstrated how profoundly influenced by Hollywood Kurosawa was: the film-noir-steeped The Bad Sleep Well and the romantic drama Scandal. (In the latter, Toshiro Mifune plays a pipe-smoking, motorcycle-riding artist who could have come out of a Paramount or 20th Century-Fox film of the 1940s -- an imitation of any number of Hollywood leading men of the era, such as Gregory Peck, Dana Andrews, or Joel McCrea.) But as any Kurosawa fan knows, the major influence on his films, especially his samurai movies, was the American Western. No wonder that filmmakers eventually turned things around and borrowed from the borrower. Sturges's version of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), was the first to do so, but Martin Ritt soon followed suit with The Outrage (1964), his version of Rashomon (Kurosawa, 1950), and Kurosawa sued Sergio Leone because of the unacknowledged remake of Yojimbo (1961) called A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The Magnificent Seven, though probably the best of the Kurosawa copies, pales in comparison with its source, but it helped make Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn into stars. In his book Escape Artist: The Life and Films of John Sturges, my former Mercury News colleague Glenn Lovell has some amusing stories about the jousting among the actors for screen time, and you can clearly see McQueen, with his more naturalistic style, upstaging the stiff and mannered Yul Brynner.