Directed by John Sturges
Starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Horst Buchholz
It’s a common complaint that all Hollywood does anymore is recycle material, but in truth Hollywood has always borrowed freely. As proof I offer The Magnificent Seven. Hollywood’s re-imagining of Kurosawa’s materpiece Seven Samurai. Now comparing Seven Samurai with The Magnificent Seven would be like comparing an Acura NSX to a Ford F-150, so let’s just see how The Magnificent Seven stands on it’s own.
The movie opens with a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his gang of bandits riding into a Mexican village and making off with whatever food and booty they can find. Before leaving Calvera informs the villagers that he will be back and the village better have more food for them when they return. The villagers have already yielded everything they have to the bandits. If they give up anymore food to Calvera they won’t be able to make it through the winter. The villagers argue whether they should try to reason with Calvera or just abandon the village. Not happy with either option the village leaders visit the old mill owner for his advice. He tells them they must buy guns and fight. After protesting that arming the village would be too expensive and that the villagers do not know how to fight anyway the old mill owner advises the villagers that perhaps they could hire American gunfighters to fight off the bandits. To this end he gives them a pocket watch to sell to raise money for the endeavor.
Three villagers head to Tombstone to hire their gunslingers. As they arrive in town they observe a tense situation. A traveling salesman has put up money to have a derelict that he found dying in the street be properly buried. Some of the townsfolk have a problem with that because the derelict happened to be an Indian and are preventing the undertaker from performing the burial. Overhearing the problem Chris (Yul Brenner) a gunfighter dressed head to toe in black volunteers to drive the hearse the short distance to Boot Hill. Vin (Steve McQueen) borrows a shotgun from a stagecoach hand and offers to ride shotgun, literally. As they cautiously drive the hearse up the hill a young man, Chico (Horst Buchholz), follows them up the hill like a lost puppy. After a few shots are fired Chris and Vin get the hearse to the top of the hill. Afterward the three villagers approach Chris about coming down to their village to help. Chris informs them that they will need five more gunfighters but that it will be hard to recruit them as all the villagers can offer them is basically room and board.
Luckily Tombstone has more than a few experienced gunslingers hanging around who for one reason or another are not impartial to a little trip to Mexico. One by one Chris recruits them. When they are six they pack up and head back to the village with the villagers. Like Chris and Vin’s trip up the hill in Tombstone to Boot Hill they have picked up a straggler, it’s Chico again. After tagging along awhile the group eventually allows him to join them. Now they are seven. The seven arrive in the village expecting a show of force will be enough to entice Calvera to move onto another village. Chico brashly infiltrates the bandit camp, the seven learn that Calvera’s bandits are starving and are not going to be easily scared away. Knowing that seven is not enough to face down a bandit horde the gunfighters must decide whether to stay and risk death or leave the villagers to the mercy of Calvera.
The Magnificent Seven is a fun movie. It’s got a great cast and the story is a classic tale of a rag tag band coming together to defend the weaker. Parts of the story seem cliched now, but they weren’t at the time and even now The Magnificent Seven does it better than most of the movies that recycled the tropes later on. John Sturges, who also produced the film, shot the movie beautifully and assembled it competently. It moves along quickly and doesn’t feel like a two hour and eight minute movie. If you’ve seen Seven Samurai you can’t help but compare The Magnificent Seven to it so I have to spend a few words discussing it. Its not as good a movie as Seven Samurai. It doesn’t have the depth and the characters are nowhere near as developed. There are many nods to Seven Samurai though, enough that you get the feeling that Sturges and the actors appreciated the original movie and its fun to pick them out as they occur.
The video is presented in wide screen format on a dual layer 50GB disc. It’s encoded at 31 MBPS. The image is grainy, it’s really noticeable in the shots that include the sky. As grainy as the image is there is still a moderate amount of detail. The color though is fantastic with a great range. You’ve got Chris walking around dressed all in black and black horses, but there is detail in there, it doesn’t just all blend together. Other than the graininess I noticed no other problems with the video, no aliasing, moire or blooming.
The audio is presented in English and Spanish in 5.1 Surround sound and there is an option to listen to the English track in mono. There are English, Spanish and French subtitles. The sound is good if not spectacular. It is well mixed with the score and dialog blended well. The Elmer Bernstein score though is the one thing in this movie that is truly magnificent. The main trumpeted motif is one that has been copied over and over.
The Packaging and Bonus Features The disc comes in the standard blue tinted Blu Ray case with the iconic image of the seven on horseback prominently displayed on the front cover. The menu is simple and easy enough to navigate. There are a number of extras; an audio commentary with Walter Mirisch, Eli Wallach and James Coburn, there is a making of featurette and another one about Elmer Bernstein and the score, there are a collection of stills and the mandatory trailers.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
While the movie may not be as magnificent as the title, it’s a solid western with an impeccable cast. Even if it was a train-wreck it would be worth watching to see Brenner, Wallach, McQueen, Bronson, Vaugh and Coburn all together on the same screen.
The Movie 6/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10