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

published 06/11/2017 | hogsflesh
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Good
Pro Classic first film
Cons Weak sequels, lack of extras on the sequels
exceptional
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"One magnificent film, three also-rans"

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen (the first film)

Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen (the first film)

This collection is usually between £15 and £20 on amazon.

The Magnificent Seven is certainly not the most critically acclaimed western ever made, but it’s probably my favourite. It’s a remake of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (which in truth is a lot better), and is one of the great ‘Sunday afternoon’ films of my childhood. Naturally enough, when Hollywood made a successful film, they followed it up with sequels. This boxset contains the original film and its three follow-ups. It doesn’t include the recent remake, thankfully.

The Magnificent Seven (1960)

I’ve reviewed this film already on this site, and to be honest it was the sequels I was interested in, so I won’t say much about it. Seven gunslingers are hired to protect a poor Mexican village from an army of bandits. They’re led by Chris (Yul Brynner), who is probably just about the coolest, but with James Coburn and Steve McQueen also in the team, he has stiff competition. All the seven have enough time to let us get to know them, from Robert Vaughn as the coward to Brad Dexter as the greedy one. Horst Buchholz as the inexperienced kid is slightly annoying, but only slightly. The film caught a few actors – McQueen, Coburn, Charles Bronson – just on the cusp of stardom. (The director, John Sturges, recast all three in The Great Escape, which he made three years later.)

It’s quite long, but is generally a lot of fun, with exciting (not very bloody) gunfights, occasional sad moments, and wonderfully redemptive character arcs for the ones who need it. It also has a memorable villain in Eli Wallach’s Calvera. Best of all is the soundtrack, by Elmer Bernstein – not just the famous main theme, but ‘uh oh, bandits’ theme and the heroic ‘magnificent seven riding around’ theme. One of my favourite soundtracks of all time – which is just as well, as we’ll be hearing it a lot over the next three films.

The first film sets the template for those to follow – a bit of set-up, then about 40 minutes of Chris recruiting his seven, then at least one shot of all of them riding together towards their destination, an early skirmish, a bit of character building, and a final battle in which… choke!... not everyone makes it. Unfortunately, after the first film, none of the sequels quite get it right…

Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966)

It took six years for the Magnificent Seven to return, and the results weren’t terribly impressive. Yul Brynner returns as Chris, presumably because his career hadn’t really done much since the first one. The characters played by Steve McQueen and Horst Buchholz also return, but… well, the actors don’t. This is an especially big problem for the character Vin, previously McQueen, as they’ve replaced one of the coolest actors ever to have lived with a stick-up-his-ass cop show type whose main role in the film is to feed lines to Brynner.

Some more bandits turn up and attack the same village as in the first film, enslaving all the menfolk (but curiously leaving the women well alone – this is all fairly safe, family-friendly stuff). Chris recruits a new seven to sort things out.

The story at least tries to be different. Instead of a village, the main action here takes place in a ruined village. So that’s something. The villain (the same guy who plays the villain in The Wild Bunch) is motivated by grief over the deaths of his sons, which I suppose is better than nothing. There’s a priest character (Fernando Rey!) who runs around trying to get people to stop the violence and yadda yadda. But it’s also a shorter film, over which a great deal less care has evidently been taken. The music is still great, but it’s not really clear how much new stuff was written – the opening theme seems to be exactly the same as in the first film, and really doesn’t match with the events on screen in the same way.

The new seven aren’t particularly well characterised. There are two familiar faces among them – Warren Oates and Claude Akins – both of whom get enough decent moments to make it worth their while. But the roguish bandit gets precisely one conversation after his recruitment, and the callow youth never even learns to speak English. If we can’t get to know the characters, we won’t care if some of them don’t survive. Brynner seems weary the whole time, and any attempt at a message is woefully unconvincing (it’s braver to be a farmer than to go into battle against 200 heavily armed Mexican bandits? Really?) This is a by-the-numbers sequel to one of the coolest Westerns ever made. It probably shouldn’t have happened.

Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

The third film is a big improvement on the second, but still isn’t a patch on the first. This time the enemies are the Mexican Federales, who have arrested a revolutionary leader (Fernando Rey again). Chris is recruited, and he finds another six gunslingers willing to follow him on a desperate mission to free Fernando.

When making this film they obviously remembered what made the original so good, so this time we get a pretty decent seven (with the exception of Monte Markham as the Steve McQueen-esque second in command, who tries for happy-go-lucky but misses by a long, long way). Familiar faces include James Whitmore as the older guy tempted out of retirement for one last job and Joe Don Baker as the one-armed, self-pitying racist (although he mumbles his dialogue too much). But they’re all memorable Western types, and this time round the film gives each of them enough good character scenes that we can at least give a vague hoot about who lives and dies.

The main problem is that Chris is now played by George Kennedy, a busy supporting actor who won an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke in 1967. This made him a star, but he was never quite leading man material. He eventually did what other actors in similar situations did (Ernest Borgnine springs to mind) – he appeared in ensemble movies (he’s in a lot of disaster films) and did TV work. Later in his career he was in the Naked Gun films. But he completely lacks the charisma that Yul Brynner brought to Chris, and lacks the hard edge and sardonic humour. He’s not bad exactly, but he’s hard to believe in – he’s too wholesome.

I guess making the military the bad guys fit with the spirit of the late 60s, and it’s probably no coincidence that The Wild Bunch, released the same year, has a similar villain (and gatling guns). Bernstein’s score is better than for Return of the Seven (it feels like it was all newly composed, for one thing). It’s nowhere near a classic, but it’s probably the best of the sequels.

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)

The final film departs from then usual formula slightly. This time round Chris is the sheriff of a frontier town with a young wife. Unfortunately a young thief he pardons shoots him and abducts and murders his wife. It’s while he’s chasing the young thug down that he happens across a town full of women under threat from the latest Mexican bandit army. His new seven is made up of people he put behind bars, in a blatant nod to The Dirty Dozen.

This time round, Chris is played by Lee van Cleef, the pipe-smoking star of plenty of Spaghetti Westerns, and he’s an improvement on George Kennedy. The rest of the seven are sketchily written at best – one guy’s moustache does most of the work for him. This is closer to the rather shabby second film, and I only recognised Luke Askew, another frequent Western actor. We’re not really given enough time to get to know or care about them, and the only one who gets significant chunks of dialogue apart from Chris is a reporter following him around trying to get his life story (similar to what happens in Unforgiven, but nowhere near as well done).

The victims are given rather more screentime than usual, with Stephanie Powers even getting second billing. Considering it’s a PG film, there’s a fair bit of offscreen rape in it, with the fate that befalls Chris’s wife, and the plight of the threatened women, heavily leaning on sexual violence. This is probably more realistic than the curiously chaste bandits of the earlier films, but it doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with a film which otherwise seems aimed at a family audience.

The music seems less spectacular this time round, the problem the seven are there to solve is less impressive, and the chief villain doesn’t get a single line of dialogue. Apart from the violent shoot-outs and frequent mention of rape, this feels almost like a TV movie. Probably just as well it was the last in the series, really.

Blu-rays

These are quite old releases, and don’t look quite as good as you might hope. The first film is pretty decent, but feels like it could be a little bit better. The second and third films are also probably good enough, with lots of fine detail visible (although the second has quite a lot of minor print damage). However, it did look like both films had too much edge enhancement applied (this is a process used to artificially boost sharpness). The last film is far murkier and blurrier, with faces invisible in long shot and far more muted colours. I’m guessing this is a consequence of the film being cheaper than the others, but it doesn’t feel like much of an improvement on standard definition.

In terms of extras, there are good ones on the Magnificent Seven disk (these are the same as for the single-film release of the film). The documentary was filmed long enough ago to include contributions from several of the actors. The other three films only have a trailer and nothing else, which feels like a bit of a shame.

But ultimately, unless you’re a real Magnificent Seven completist, you only really need to see the first film, which you can buy alone for much less than the boxset.

All screenshots were taken from the blu-rays using Aiseesoft Blu-ray Player software on my PC's BD drive.

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Comments on this review

  • jo-1976 published 28/11/2017
    The original is a classic
  • SnowSurprise published 25/11/2017
    E!!!
  • danielalong published 15/11/2017
    E x
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Product Information : The Magnificent Seven Collection (Blu-ray)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Actor(s) (Last name, First name): Brynner, Yul

Actor(s): Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Fuller, George Kennedy, Lee Van Cleef

DVD Region: Blu-ray

EAN: 5039036050425

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Sturges, John

Classification: Parental Guidance

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