Judge Mike Rubino would hire seven lawyers, if a bandit tried to steal his crops.
"We deal in lead friend."—Vin
The classic Western remake of the even more classic Japanese samurai movie rides again on Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
A small farm village is pinned under the boot heel of Calvera (Eli Wallach, The Godfather: Part III), a bandit who raids the town for crops each season. Fed up with the pillaging, the farmers seek out the help of veteran gunman, Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner, Westworld). Chris enlists six other men, and together they set out to protect the town from the returning bandits.
You won't find the somber excellence of Seven Samurai anywhere in the sun-baked countryside of this rollicking Hollywood Western. While Kurosawa's masterpiece peddles contemplative honor and courage with its adventure, John Sturges's blockbuster favors breezy, light-hearted heroics. The one-liners flow efficiently like the farm community's irrigation system. The gunplay is brisk and over the top. The good guys are big and arrogant; it's a classic American cowboy flick, that's for sure.
The Magnificent Seven opens with Elmer Bernstein's iconic score—a piece of music that's transcended the film itself. It's adventurous without taking itself too seriously; that's the tone of the entire film, really. The threat of Calvera and the bandits is established, the farmers decide they want to get guns and stand up for themselves, and then the reigns of the picture are handed over to Yul Brynner. His introduction is the most entertaining scene in the film's first half: Chris steps up to drive a hearse, which contains the body of a Native American, to the cemetery after the undertaker chickens out. Vin (Steve McQueen, Bullitt), a random cowboy onlooker, volunteers to join him. Together, the two endure racial slurs and errant gunshots as they slowly make their way through the town. It's a tense scene that quickly establishes the kind of men that make up the seven: good guys with guts.
If only the rest of the film's first half was as tense and exciting. The only real complaint I have about the film is that it's a little too slow and loose with its plotting. Brynner assembles his team, which features strong performances by tough guy actors like Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and European newcomer Horst Buchholz (One, Two, Three), and then goes about preparing the villagers for battle. The cast is so perfect that Sturges and screenwriter William Roberts are content to just let them chew the scenery a while. They quip and wisecrack and prepare as the minutes tick by. It's all very entertaining, but large swathes of the first half of the film could be boiled down to training montages.
Once The Magnificent Seven enters its final hour and the story shifts into siege mode, the film is undeniably fun. The first invasion, the second wave, and the climactic showdown are all thrillingly choroeographed set pieces. Sturges' camerawork is standard Western fare, but occasionally shows flashes of brilliance: dolly shots that ride alongside galloping horses, gunfights layered through windows and buildings, and at least one instance of a guy getting axed in the torso. Brynner, McQueen, Wallach, and the rest of the colorfully drawn characters are never lost in the fray. The importance of "the gang of seven" is clear from the start, so it's odd that more dramatic weight isn't given to the various deaths that occur during battle (that's not really a spoiler, right?). Given the tone of the film, you can't expect the end to be anywhere near as sobering as Samurai's. Instead, Chris and the remaining gang ride on, eventually arriving at their many sequels and a TV series.
The Magnificent Seven was originally released on Blu-ray in the Magnificent Seven Collection, which contained all the sequels. For fans not interested in the gang's adventures into the land of diminishing returns, this single-disc Blu-ray should be enough to keep you happy. The transfer is relatively sharp, if occasionally over-saturated—especially in those bright red opening credits. But the Panavision film stock holds up with a pleasing amount of grain and vibrant coloration. The DTS-HD Master surround track is also solid, giving plenty of weight to Berstein's tremendous score (which, occasionally, drowns out some of the dialogue).
The disc's supplements are all holdovers from the film's standard def releases: there's a commentary track with James Coburn, Eli Wallach, producer Walter Mirisch and assistant director Robert Relyea; a 47-minute documentary, "Guns for Hire," on the making of the film; a featurette on Berstein's score; a look at some of the lost photography from the film; and various trailers and still galleries. The bonus features are all welcomed, even if they are repeated from previous releases.
There's no denying The Magnificent Seven's status as one of the classic Westerns. It's a fun, epic Hollywood cowboy movie with plenty of one-liners and six-shooters. It may not have the dramatic depth of its Japanese source material, but that separation in tone allows this picture, and its outstanding cast, to stand proudly on its own.
As far as this Blu-ray release is concerned, fans of the film would do well to pick this one up if you didn't already get it from the high definition boxed set. Just don't expect any new supplements.
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