MGM // 1966 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Rogers (Retired) // September 19th, 2011
If ever there was a case against sequels, this would be it.
I waited an incredibly long time before getting around to seeing John Sturges's The Magnificent Seven, mainly because one of my favorite films of all time is Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. I was hesitant to see a big-budgeted Hollywood remake of such a classic, but by the time I finally watched it, my experience was quite different. I saw the beautiful give and take between Sturges's restraint behind the camera and the explosiveness of the screenplay. I saw a simple yet highly effective story of humanity and redemption given new life in the form of a Western. While The Magnificent Seven may lack the perfectly detailed sense of drama and the intricate humanist framework of Kurosawa's original picture, it is still a masterpiece of its genre. But of course, along comes a sequel, one with a paycheck-seeking Yul Brynner and Robert Fuller trying to replace Steve McQueen (Bullitt). It's a recipe for disaster.
Chico (Julian Mateos, The Robbers) has it rough. Just a few years ago, he banded together with friends to save his town from bandits. Now his town has been ransacked and Chico has been put to work as a slave rebuilding a desert village. Chico's wife (Elisa Montes, Deathwork) seeks out his old friends Chris (Yul Brynner, Westworld) and Vin (Robert Fuller, Laramie) to help save the town once more.
The first thing you'll notice about Return of the Magnificent Seven is that the only familiar face is Yul Brynner; everyone else either died in the original film or was too busy to bother with this one. And later in his career, Brynner never shied away from a paying gig. You can almost see the defeat in the man's eyes, as he attempts to shoulder this entire movie by himself and carry it over the finish line. It just doesn't happen. The biggest reason for failure is Brynner's supporting cast, which is made up of a bunch of nobodies. The only bright spots are Warren Oates (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) as one of the seven and Emilio Fernandez (The Wild Bunch) as the film's hammy villain. The rest of the cast are B-list actors without the ability to make the film as grandiose as it needs to be. The Magnificent Seven had a screenplay stock full of archetypal characters that were only there to serve a certain purpose or reflect a certain Western convention. But it was great because you had a bevy of A-list actors who stepped in and gave these paper thin characters a sense of complexity and dramatic depth that went far beyond the superficial. We don't have that here.
Flat and unsubstantial acting aside, the real problem in Return of the Magnificent Seven lies in the director's chair. Instead of Sturges's deft hand we get Burt Kennedy; a two-bit B-director whose crowning achievement, The Train Robbers, is one of John Wayne's most generic films (which is saying something). Kennedy has no ability to match the scope of Sturges and doesn't have command of his actors or his sets. It's no wonder this sequel feels like a made-for-TV film. Kennedy shouldn't be the only one blamed for the film's stillbirth nature. He gets help from screenwriter Larry Cohen (It's Alive), who has not only written loads of cinematic crap like Maniac Cop and Black Caesar, but has no feel for the Western genre at all. He overfills Return of the Magnificent Seven with genre cliché after cliché, taking a simple yet beautiful premise -- divergent men uniting under a common goal to save an unfamiliar town -- and turning it into a convoluted mess (something about a hidden desert village being built in tribute to the dead sons of some cattle baron by townsfolk-cum-slaves). Not only is Cohen's script laughable, but once you strip away the absurdity of the plot, it's really nothing more than a B-version of the original. It's the exact same story done worse. Cohen doesn't even get the most important part right for subpar sequels; do everything bigger and better.
On the plus side, MGM has released a pretty decent Blu-ray complete with a 2.35:1 AVC/MPEG-4 codec. The 1080p image on has a robust grain structure that lends itself to the period nature of the film. While certain shots seem to have been scrubbed clean of detail, there's still a relatively decent sense of clarity and hints of vibrancy in the muted color palette of the original. It's a worthy image that unfortunately does not stay consistent throughout. The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio track is similarly worthy. Elmer Bernstein's reused score is very detailed and given just the right amount of push in the back channels while the main brunt of it washes over you from the front. Some of the action seems muted and restrained on the back channels and certain effects sound flat but at times but it's not a constant issue. One strike on this Blu-ray is the lack of special features. While it's a film that may not deserve any, it would have been nice to have seen something on there to take up space.
Despite a technically sound Blu-ray, Return of the Magnificent Seven is unnecessary. It's painful to watch and should be avoided at all costs.
Guilty for existing.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated