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review added: 6/4/02



The Magnificent Seven
Special Edition - 1960 (2001) - MGM

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Magnificent Seven: Special Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/C+/A-

Specs and Features

128 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:09:13, at the start of chapter 9), audio commentary (by producer Walter Mirisch, actor Eli Wallach, actor James Coburn and assistant director Robert Relyea), Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven documentary, 2 theatrical trailers, still gallery, booklet, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 mono), French and Spanish (Mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned


In the long line of Hollywood remakes of foreign films, perhaps no Americanization was more natural or inevitable than The Magnificent Seven. Based on Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, itself heavily influenced by the Westerns of John Ford, director John Sturges had little trouble transplanting the Japanese story to a village in Mexico. Surprisingly, The Magnificent Seven has become a classic in its own right. The combination of a can't-lose story, a cast comprised largely of actors on the threshold of becoming major stars and an unforgettable, instantly recognizable theme, have allowed the movie to continue to win fans more than forty years after its debut.

The story remains the same as in Kurosawa's film. A small farming village is terrorized by a group of bandits (led here by Eli Wallach). Without the means to protect themselves, they hire a diverse group of gunslingers. They are Chris, the man in black (Yul Brynner, an Oscar winner for The King and I and the marquee name at the time of the movie's release), the cool as ice Vin (Steve McQueen, then a TV star on Wanted Dead or Alive), money-hungry Harry (Brad Dexter… trivia buffs will want to file that name away and win bar bets 'cause poor Mr. Dexter is the one people always forget), the Mexican-Irish Bernardo O'Reilly (Charles Bronson), the knife-wielding Britt (James Coburn), Lee, the man of mystery (Robert Vaughn a couple years before becoming Napoleon Solo on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Chico, a young tag-along eager to prove himself (Horst Buchholz, stepping none too agilely into the role played by Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai). The seven arrive in town, train the villagers and face off against Wallach and his band of cutthroats.

The Magnificent Seven is nowhere near as good as Seven Samurai, but that's all right. Very few movies are. On its own terms, The Magnificent Seven is a most entertaining Western. Brynner is good as the ostensible leader of the pack, but it's his co-stars that end up stealing the show. McQueen, Coburn, Bronson and Vaughn make this movie the fun ride it is. In a way, that's what works against the movie too. The best Westerns revolve around a very strong magnetic center, whether it's John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or James Stewart. Brynner isn't quite up to the task of anchoring this movie, so it's no trouble at all for McQueen to steal focus. Seven Samurai had well over three hours to make every member of the group a sharp, well-defined character. The Magnificent Seven doesn't have that luxury.

MGM's special edition DVD has a couple of minor disappointments, but will generally satisfy the movie's fans. First off, the bad news: picture quality is merely good. Not great. Not even very good. But good. Colors are strong and the anamorphically enhanced picture fills the screen beautifully. But time has taken its toll on the film elements. There is a substantial amount of dirt and damage, particularly whenever optical effects like dissolves are employed. The image is satisfactory and it doesn't rank as one of the worst disasters in DVD history, but a proper restoration of the film would have made the picture pop. As for the audio, I was really looking forward to hearing Elmer Bernstein's majestic score on the new 5.1 surround mix. It was okay, but the mix isn't really active and seems to just spread the soundscape thin. Dialogue becomes difficult to hear in some scenes and there is virtually no directionality employed during the film's many gunfights. This is one of the rare instances where I actually preferred the original mono mix. It isn't spectacular, but at least it's solid and understandable.

Now the good news: MGM has put together some terrific supplements for this release, starting with audio commentary by Eli Wallach, James Coburn, producer Walter Mirisch and assistant director Robert Relyea. These veterans have some great stories to tell and they tell 'em extremely well. Coburn is probably the last person alive who can get away with describing someone as "groovy". I always enjoy commentaries for older movies much more than recent ones and this is no exception. It's infinitely more interesting to hear people reminisce about a movie made years ago than it is to hear somebody blather on about their "technique" on a movie they finished shooting six months ago.

In addition to the commentary, the documentary Guns for Hire is an in-depth look at the making of the movie. There is some minor repetition from the commentary track, but the documentary is valuable in it's own right, with vintage interviews with Yul Brynner and behind-the-scenes photos employed extensively. The still gallery is nicely arranged, with a separate mini-menu that categorizes the photos into Behind the Scenes, Off the Set, Portrait Art, Classic Production Art and Poster Art. So if you just want to look at the posters, you don't have to wade through a hundred other pictures to get to them. It's a good idea and one I wish more discs would use. Rounding out the DVD are two trailers for the movie. I'd have also liked to see trailers for the sequels to The Magnificent Seven, but that's a minor quibble.

While not bursting at the seams with bonus material, The Magnificent Seven earns its special edition title by virtue of the quality of the supplements provided. The presentation of the film itself left a little to be desired, but not enough to keep me from recommending the disc. This is an impressive edition that should more than satisfy the movie's legion of fans.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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