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THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Horst Buchholz, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter
Director:  John Sturges
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2 Channel Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  See Review
Length:  128 Minutes
Release Date:  May 8, 2001

Film ***1/2

There is an action film philosophy usually attributed to Sylvester Stallone around the time he made Rambo that suggests the perfect action film is one that requires no dialogue.  In actuality, that idea can be traced back to Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, who practiced an economy of spoken words.  “Where you from?” a townie asks him.  He gestures backwards with his thumb.  “Where you going?”  He points forward with his index finger.

One of the most popular westerns ever made, The Magnificent Seven is actually an Americanized remake of one of Japan’s greatest epics, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.  Ironically enough, however, Mr. Kurosawa did not draw on the traditional samurai genre for his film, but instead, was influenced by the American westerns of John Ford.  He turned the samurai film from a graceful, balletic crowd pleaser into a dramatic tale of honor and dignity, where the fighting was real and the violence had consequences.  These are the same qualities inherent in The Magnificent Seven.

When a poor village of Mexican farmers face starvation in the face of the bandit Calvera (Wallach) and his army of thugs, they cross the border into Texas in search of guns.  What they find instead is a seasoned gunslinger for hire, Chris (Brynner), who agrees to help the farmers for their meager offer of pay and food. 

He searches for and assembles the right men to join him in action.  Vin (McQueen) is the quick draw artist who helped him deliver the corpse of an Indian to Boot Hill earlier in the picture, despite the white resistance to the burial.  Britt (Coburn) is a man faster with a knife than most are with a gun.  Lee (Vaughn) is a man battling his personal fears and demons.   Harry (Dexter) believes there’s something more lucrative to the village than just grains and vegetables.  Bernardo (Bronson) is a quiet fellow who ends up a sort of reluctant father figure to some of the farmers’ kids.  And finally, Chico (Buchholz), a young hothead with a secret or two up his sleeve.

This ragtag bunch of gunfighters become the Magnificent Seven, but they realize it’s going to take more than what they bring to fight off Calvera and his forty bandits.  They bide their time by teaching the villagers how to fight, shoot, and defend themselves.  The big battle is inevitable, and though the odds are bleak, Chris and his men are determined to pull through.

The structure follows Kurosawa’s film with remarkable closeness.  In the end, the major differences of The Magnificent Seven really boil down to less consistent pacing and not as much character development for the minor players.  But the spirit of courage and the strange nobility of the code of the gunslinger ring true, as do the film’s tremendously exciting action set pieces.

As the film became a major hit, it launched the career of many of its fresh faced stars and introduced a new kind of thoughtfulness to the genre.  It stripped the idyllic figure of the cowboy of its glamour, and instead, presented them as men who sacrificed a lot to lead the lives they lived.  “We always lose,” muses Chris at the end.  There is but one end for the gunslinger…and those who don’t face it today ride off to meet their fate some other day and some other place.

Video ***1/2

MGM offers a very nice anamorphic transfer here, worthy of such a classic title.  Colors and image detail are strong throughout, with no noticeable grain or distortions.   The print shows its age occasionally in terms of dirt, debris, and a very slight flicker in one or two of the darkest scenes, but for the most part, the transfer is clean and free from distractions.  The brightly lit scenes, of which there are many, are particularly beautiful.  All in all, fans should be very pleased.

Audio ***

I enjoyed the new 5.1 remix, but as per norm for older films, you shouldn’t expect too much tinkering with the audio.   Most of the film’s sound is presented on the forward stage, with a minimal of panning, and the rear stage only comes into play to accent the music and for the gunfight scenes, where echoes and ricochets can be heard from behind.  Of course, I have to mention Elmer Bernstein’s remarkable score, which is one of movie history’s most memorable.  It sounds lively and clear, and is one of those themes that immediately excites you with just the opening notes, as the themes from Shaft, Jaws or Star Wars.  All in all, a cautious but commendable effort.

Features ***1/2

The disc starts with a terrific group commentary that brings together producer Walter Mirisch and actors Eli Wallach and James Coburn, who seem to have a good time reminiscing about the movie’s myths and facts, as well as their co-stars and their director.  There is a nice documentary, “Guns For Hire”, which features plenty of modern interview clips and even a few vintage ones with Yul Brynner.  To complete, there are two trailers and a photo gallery, plus some nice animated menus with music.

Summary:

The Magnificent Seven will be riding again and again in home theatres across the country with this terrific DVD offering from MGM.  A popular classic with great stars, direction and story, a beautiful anamorphic transfer, and a pleasant extras package make this disc truly…well, magnificent.