Our review of Return of the Magnificent Seven (Blu-ray), published September 19th, 2011, is also available.
Between the law and the lawless—SEVEN again…MAGNIFICENT again!
Ah, the sequel. We love them, we hate them, we critics rant against them, droves of people go to see them anyway. It's a long tradition in the movie industry; when a movie makes enough money, the suits see it as a safe investment to follow up on it. The results are rarely noteworthy, except that many people pay to see them, which is the most important thing to the studio after all. Such is the story of Return of the Magnificent Seven, or Return of the Seven as it was originally called. Only Yul Brynner came back for the sequel, and the replacements are very different from the original characters, though one or two carry their weight. This was the first of several remakes on the theme that was itself a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, with varying results but never matching the quality of the original. MGM seems to realize this, since the DVD doesn't have the extra content or the 5.1 soundtrack given the first Magnificent Seven. Still a decent film, but is left far behind in the shadow of the first.
Facts of the Case
The Magnificent Seven left us with Chico staying behind in the village and marrying the lovely Petra, and it is some time later we take up the beginning of the story. Once more bandits come en masse, but this time they come to steal all the men, leaving the women and children behind. Petra comes to see Chris Adams (Yul Brynner) to give him the news and pleads for his help. With his friend Vin (now played by Robert Fuller, a travesty compared to having Steve McQueen the first time around), they have to recruit another group of gunmen to find the bandit leader Lorca (Emilio Fernandez), solve the mystery of the missing men, and save the village. For some reason, they only need seven to defeat the scores of bandits again.
The user comments on IMDb for this film say, "They shouldn't have returned," and I couldn't agree more. It might have been another story if they could have matched the ensemble cast of greats from the original, but that is unfortunately not the case. Replacing Steve McQueen with the largely unknown Robert Fuller, who has seemingly made a career out of made for TV movies and television, was a very poor choice. It almost didn't matter how well he performs, since he is in the shadow of one of the greats who had the role first. Far better if he'd had his own new character. Less problematic was replacing Horst Buchholz as Chico; at least this time they used an actual Mexican for the role. Fortunately for the rest of the cast, they weren't expected to play the same characters as the first film, since most of them died there. That said, the new cast members aren't all bad; two stand out as well developed characters played well: Claude Akins plays Frank, who lost a wife and who no longer cares about his own life and safety, and Warren Oates, who plays the lecherous playboy Colbee, who came along to see a village full of women with no men. The rest of the cast is less important and is never given the development that made the ensemble from the first film so wonderful.
The story does take some new turns from the original, with a surprising reason for the missing men, and a villain who isn't all he seems to be. It's not everyday a bandit steals men to build a church, after all. This minor spoiler is the only one you get, but it might intrigue you at least to give the film a chance. I say this because if you take the film on its own merits it isn't a bad one; its biggest flaw is the unfavorable comparison it deserves to the original. If there had been no Magnificent Seven, this film would likely be remembered far more fondly, though of course it probably would never have been made without the original. There are some fine action scenes and stunts this time around too, though Burt Kennedy's direction doesn't have quite the flair of John Sturges.
MGM doesn't typically give catalog titles a lot of extra effort or extra content, and they don't here, but at least the transfer is nice. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is cleaned up nicely, though it does display more grain than the first disc. Colors are still rich and vibrant, earth tones warm and golden, and the shadow detail may be a bit better than the first. The sound is a two-channel mono, which is clear enough, but betrays the fidelity limitations of soundtracks from the time, with a bit of harshness and little in the low end. Bernstein's score at least is the same memorable music we remember, and comes through decently. Like most MGM catalog titles, extra content is confined to a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is a little unfair to cut down the film too far; I've seen Westerns that were much worse. To be fair, most people watched this six years after the original, not as part of a double feature. However, I watched it right after the original, and it surely doesn't stack up. Gone is most of the character development, the reflections on the life of a gunman, and the villain doesn't come close to the great character and performance by Eli Wallach. Another character I'm perhaps unfairly unhappy with is Fernando Rey playing a priest. His nearly incomprehensible accent reminded me of his role in Rustler's Rhapsody, one of my favorite Western comedies, where he used that same voice as a joke. Unintentional humor isn't a good thing in a Western. Unfortunately, this is only a shadow of the original, and fairly or not comes off as a cheap knock-off of a classic film.
Fans of the film will likely be happy with the DVD. Most will be happier sticking to the original Magnificent Seven, as the sequel doesn't make a very good second part of a double feature. You could do worse than this film, but you don't have to look far to find better.
Guilty of making an inferior sequel to make money! Unfortunately if that was a crime there would be no studios left. Vote with your dollars for a change in the law, but for now I'm forced to release the film.
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