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Posted August 02, 2011 to photo album "Déjà vu"
In adapting the Israeli thriller <em>Ha-Hov</em> into <em>The Debt</em>, John Madden enters the cinematic tradition of remaking foreign language films for English-speaking audiences. We look at some of the best foreign language adaptations, from transforming Kurosawa into a American western to popularizing Japanese horror.
Seven Samurai (1954) to The Magnificent Seven (1960)
During the classic Hollywood era, it was standard procedure for studios to rehash their own back catalogues, trotting out new versions of old hits, but with the exception of films like Algiers (1938) and Intermezzo (1939), remakes of foreign language movies were almost unheard of. That all changed with The Magnificent Seven, John Sturges' 1960 Western, which put an American spin on Japanese master Akira Kurosawa's superlative chanbara epic, Seven Samurai (1954). Of his peers, Kurosawa was arguably the Japanese director most influenced by Hollywood cinema and Seven Samurai – the tale of villagers who hire a septet of swordsmen to protect them from marauding bandits – owed a debt to such filmmakers as John Ford. As a result, the film was naturally suited to be transposed to the American West. Writes Empire's Kim Newman of The Magnificent Seven, “The marauding bandits who prey on the isolated village are now sombrero-sporting Pancho Villa types [and] instead of swift-sword samurai, the downtrodden villagers appeal to quick-gunmen... As in the Kurosawa movie, the heroes are an unusual bunch of near-psychopaths, comic oddballs and mythic archetypes.” Sturges pointedly avoided making unnecessary changes in his remake, and indeed some of the dialogue in The Magnificent Seven was directly translated from Kurosawa's film. Certain characters were combined, making room for new ones, but the most notable change was the addition of Calvera, played by Eli Wallach, the main villain who gunslingers Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson et al. are gunning for. In Kurosawa's film, by contrast, the bandits have no leader, yet Sturges smartly identified that traditional Hollywood storytelling required a baddie to root against. The Magnificent Seven was a huge critical and financial success on its release, and now enjoys classic status. In addition to spawning three sequels, it also inspired a string of films, such as The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone, which repeated the idea of heroes banding together to achieve a specific goal.