The Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray)

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The Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray)

John Sturges's remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI has become an influential film in its own right. A small farming Mexican village t...

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Review of "The Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray)"

published 03/09/2011 | hogsflesh
Member since : 19/04/2010
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Excellent
Pro Classic Western action film
Cons The extras could perhaps be a bit better
very helpful
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"If god didn't want them sheared he would not have made them sheep"

Brynner and McQueen

Brynner and McQueen

This is a review of the MGM Blu-Ray, about £7 on amazon.

This is one of my favourite Westerns. While it doesn’t have the savagery of The Wild Bunch or the beauty of Once Upon A Time In The West, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. Made in 1960, it’s a good, honest, totally unpretentious and rather old-fashioned tale of good gunmen protecting helpless villagers from bad gunmen. Like all Westerns, it’s about the process of civilising lawless frontier communities and the sweeping away of the now-obsolete gunfighters of old. It’s also a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s superb Seven Samurai.

Year: 1960
Director: John Sturges
Stars: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson
More information available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054047/
IMDB user rating: 7.8

A small village in Mexico is terrorised by a local bandit chief, Calvera (Eli Wallach), and his little army. Some of the villagers head north of the border to try and buy guns. Instead, they come back with seven gunfighters who promise to sort it all out for them. There’s bald leader Chris (Yul Brynner), super-cool Vin (Steve McQueen), young, feisty Chico (Horst Buchholtz), ugly O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), cool and efficient Britt (James Coburn), greedy Harry (Brad Dexter) and morally-ambiguous Lee (Robert Vaughn), who has lost his nerve. They teach the villagers to fight, and await the inevitable showdown.

The film has a classic three-act structure. 1 – the heroes band together. 2 – they arrive at the village and all learn something about themselves. 3 – there’s a big fight. Although each of the seven gets a bit of a sub-plot (except James Coburn, for some reason), they don’t get equal screen time. Robert Vaughn was always one of my favourites (probably because I also liked the Man from UNCLE), and I love the dark hints dropped about his past and the way he redeems himself.

One character who gets plenty of screen time is Chico, played by Horst Buchholz, a German actor. You kind of feel that the studio was trying to build him up as a major new star, as he gets to dance, do comedy, deliver a rousing speech, fall in love, and emote drunkenly. Unfortunately he is profoundly annoying. It didn’t work, anyway – he didn’t become a star outside Germany.

But apart from Buchholz, the cast are fantastic. Brynner and McQueen are constantly trying to out-cool each other, unaware that James Coburn steals the film out from under their very noses. Charles Bronson was never much of an actor, but he had great presence and conveys gruff-but-with-a-heart-of-gold well enough. Vaughn wears a rather silly costume (those gloves would be a hindrance in a gunfight), but he does the whole world-weary, disgusted with himself thing very well. And Brad Dexter is great as the fortune hunter always trying to figure out the angle (he’s the other one who didn’t really go on to do much else – a shame). Eli Wallach is fab as the grimacing Mexican villain, spitting out his lines with great relish – it’s very similar to the role he played later in the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The direction, by John Sturges, is fine. He doesn’t do anything flashy, but there isn’t any need to – it’s a simple story, well-told (he later did The Great Escape, with three of the Seven in prominent roles). The action scenes are fast and relatively exciting, although they perhaps don’t hold up so well after you’ve seen Leone’s endless stand-offs or Peckinpah’s astounding bloodbaths. The music, by Elmer Bernstein, is some of the best film music ever, with at least three memorable, hummable melodies that underline the action perfectly – it’s a quite old-fashioned use of incidental music, but by heavens, it’s rousing! The photography is nice.

The best thing about it, though, is the male bonding and the gently melting machismo – the Seven arrive in the village as hardened toughs, living irredeemable lives filled with random violence. They all change, becoming more human (except perhaps Coburn). While Charles Bronson becoming surrogate father to some annoying kids is a bit puke-making, the rest of it is great. I love fatalistic Lee’s reason for riding back to the final showdown with the others. I love Vin’s quiet chat with Chris about how much the villagers have come to mean to them. And I really love Chris and Harry’s final conversation – one lying to the other out of kindness, the other playing along with it so he can take his illusions with him to the grave – ah, this is practically King Lear!

Blu-Ray

The picture looks beautiful, with a great deal of fine detail visible. This is almost a hindrance, as I found myself just looking at the rock formations in the hills in the background, or the cracks in the brickwork, instead of at the action. As ever, it’s an older film that brings out the best in the Bu-Ray format. The colours are distinctive, although the film’s colour palette tends towards brown and sandy, as do most Westerns. Curiously, there are a few shots with heavy grain on them – grain on an image is part of how film looks, but it’s always odd to see it on only one or two bits if the rest of the film doesn’t have much. Oh well, presumably that’s what the film looked like when released.

The only real annoyance is that when you use fast forward or rewind, it brings up a clunking great graphic along the bottom of the screen showing you how far through the film you are. It also uses unintuitive pop-up menus you have to scroll through to select the extras, rather than just giving you a list on a screen in the usual way.

Extras

This has almost the same extras as the DVD ‘Ultimate Edition’ – oddly, some of the extras aren’t mentioned on the back of the DVD. They’re in standard definition. There’s a commentary, featuring a few of the cast and crew. It doesn’t really seem to have actually been recorded as a commentary, though, as the various people don’t seem to be reacting to what’s in the film, they’re just chatting about it and coming up with various anecdotes. It’s not so good.

There are a few photo galleries, although without many photos in them. There are trailers for the film (this loses the sequels for the film’s awful sequels, which were included on the DVD for some reason). One trailer has an absolutely hilarious song that was presumably cut from the film on grounds of taste. Then there are a couple of short but dull documentaries – one about the film’s music and one, bizarrely, about a book of photos from the film that was found in an abandoned salt mine (not nearly as exciting as it sounds, believe me).

There’s a longer ‘making of’ documentary that’s pretty good. All the main cast appear except McQueen and Bronson (Brynner in archive footage). There are some fun anecdotes, and it takes us through various legal battles, trouble with the Mexican government and actorly ego problems the film had to contend with. It was obviously made a few years ago, as at least three of the actors in it have since died, but it’s decent enough. Most of the information in the commentary can also be found in the ‘making of’ documentary.

Anyway, if old-style cowboy heroics are your thing then this is an essential purchase, especially at the currenht price. It looks better than I imagined it would, and is as much fun now as it was when I was a kid.

Screenshots are from the old DVD and are intended to show how the film looks. Screenshots from the Blu-Ray can be found here: http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDReviews20/magnificent_seven_dvd_review.htm

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Comments on this review

  • jonathanb published 23/09/2011
    It's a great film, but whenever I see it now I find myself distracted by the way McQueen infamously used various techniques to try and divert attention from Brynner to himself - he's always fidding with something in the background or doing anything he can to upstage The Great Bald One. I'm not sure it entirely works, but McQueen gets full marks for effort.
  • KathEv published 18/09/2011
    E review
  • Ailran published 08/09/2011
    Such a fabulous film, but not a patch on Battle Beyond The Stars :op
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Product Information : The Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

John Sturges's remake of Akira Kurosawa's classic THE SEVEN SAMURAI has become an influential film in its own right. A small farming Mexican village that makes involuntary donations of its harvest to a gang of bandits led by Calvera (Eli Wallach) decides to hire a group of professional gunmen, headed by gunslinger-for-hire Chris (Yul Brynner), to protect them. Despite the meager pay, Chris and Vin (Steve McQueen) sign on after the Mexicans see them face down some racist thugs. Chris begins to pick up other gunmen, including Bernardo (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughan), Britt (James Coburn), Harry (Brad Dexter), and aspiring gunslinger Chico (Horst Buchholz), as they ride back to the village.The Mexicans, who are at first ambivalent about having gunmen hanging around their town, finally let down their guard and allow their visitors to teach them how to shoot and how to best reconfigure the town to defend against Calvera. When the bandits return, they find harvesting the crops a little more challenging. This rousing, perfectly cast action film launched the careers of Bronson, McQueen, and Coburn. It also benefits tremendously from the unforgettably polyrhythmic score by Elmer Bernstein, among the most famous in film history. So popular was the film's theme that it was used to sell Marlboro cigarettes for years afterward.

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