Flashback Friday, Movie Marketing

Flashback MMM: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

magnicent-seven-1960-posterThis week’s The Magnificent Seven is, of course, not the first time the story of a group of vagabonds being assembled to protect a small town or village from a band of outlaws has been told on screen. Back in 1960 director John Sturges translated the classic Akira Kurosawa movie The Seven Samurai to the popular Western genre in the first iteration of The Magnificent Seven. The American adaptation starred Yul Brynner as Chris Adams, a gunslinger who’s recruited by the residents of a peasant town that’s annually raided by bandits for food, women and more. Adams can’t do it alone and so assembles a team of misfits to help him out, hoping not so much to defeat Calvera (Eli Wallach) as to divert his attention to other targets simply by virtue of there being a resisting presence in the town. Among those playing part of Adams’ group are Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and Steve McQueen.

The campaign for the new version really loved playing with the number 7 as a visual element and we can see that was also the case in 1960. Set against a bright yellow background, the numeral 7 is the central element, with artwork of the faces of the leads, including McQueen, Brynner and Wallach, all looking out toward the audience with tough and determined expressions. Also pushed in there are a few action scenes from the movie, mostly showing one character punching another. At the bottom of the design is the band of outlaws who are riding into town and causing all the mischief. The copy declares “They were seven…They fought like seven hundred!” and Brynner is the only above-the-title name among the cast.

There were other posters but this seems to be the primary one and it’s not bad. It makes its point well in the big bold, hyperbolic style that was common to that era of movie posters. It gives time to the big three stars, which is saying something when you consider Vaughn, Coburn and others are here as well.

The same tack is taken in the first trailer, which opens with the seven vigilantes striding into frame to form a 7 on the street of an old west town as a group sings about them and their exploits. The song sounds like the kind of thing that would be featured as the opening of a western TV show like “Gunsmoke” or something more than a movie theme and spells out the plot of the movie, reusing the “They were seven who fought like 700” and talking about how they are doing so for their own reasons. Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score comes in as we get some scenes that try to lay out the story but do so in a very choppy manner, with no real connective material between disparate shots. It all ends with more expository singing and shots of a massive shoutout with the bandits.

What’s notable here is once again who is and isn’t featured. Brynner, McQueen and Wallach seem to be the major stars at this point, though the trailer also calls out Horst Buckholz, who plays Chico (the violent one) in what seems to be his first significant role. The rest of the cast is dropped into the “other” category.

The second trailer is much more linear, at least up to a point. So it opens with Chris being recruited by the townspeople to save their town, but that’s after the main cast is all introduced by name, including all seven of the anti-heroes who will form the team of defenders. From there on out narration explains the situation to us as we see plenty of shots of gunfights featuring various members of the cast.

It works a bit better, at least from a modern point of view, in that it focuses on the impressive cast and starts somewhere near the beginning of the story. It’s clear, though, that in addition to the star power on display the main pull is the series of gunfights and shootouts the heroes will be involved in, which makes sense considering how popular westerns were at the time.

It’s an interesting contrast with the marketing for the new version of the movie, which is much more concerned with the assembling of the team than anything else. Maybe that’s a reflection of the power talent has over marketing’s direction these days, maybe it’s a reflection of changing audience tastes. But the new movie’s campaign, while it certainly emphasizes Chris Pratt and Denzel Washington as the leads, also consistently takes more time to show us D’Onofrio, Hawke and others and how they play into the story and the dynamic of the team that’s been assembled.

For its time, though, this is a fun, entertaining campaign that obviously did its job not only selling the movie to contemporary audiences but also – thanks in large part to the Bernstein score that isn’t even in the second trailer – solidifying the movie as a classic for decades to come.

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