DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – DVD Collector’s Edition (2006)

One of the greatest and most influential western films of all time – a true epic worthy of its name

Published on January 16, 2006

The Magnificent Seven (1960) – DVD Collector’s Edition (2006)
The Magnificent Seven (1960) – DVD Collector’s Edition (2006)

Starring: Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Horst Buchholz
Produced and directed by John Sturges
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (2 DVDs)
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital, English (Mono)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Disc One: Movie Commentaries by actors James Coburn, Eli Wallach, Walter Mirish (Producer), and Robert Relyea (Assistant Director); and Alternate Commentary by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling. Disc Two: “Guns for Hire – The Making of The Magnificent Seven” Documentary, “Christopher Frayling on The Magnificent Seven” Featurette, “Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven” Featurette, “The Linen Book: Lost Images From The Magnificent Seven” Featurette, Photo Gallery.
Length: 128 minutes
Rating: *****

In 1960, The Magnificent Seven marked a turning point for Westerns in Hollywood. Most people believed that western movies had played out. They had gone from being a theater staple to becoming a nightly television occurrence; the genre itself was in danger of becoming oversaturated. In the past were the idealized mythologies of the 30s, 40s and 50s, showcasing horse-dramas populated by sharply-dressed iron-jawed heroes defined by an equally ironclad sense of personal honor reinforced by steely resolve, whose mission was to protect the innocent and to do what was right, and epitomized by actors Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne. In the future, after The Magnificent Seven, were the 60s and 70s’ revisioning of the West, a version filled with cynicism and ironic antiheroes, men whose tainted and compromised souls were signaled by their dusty clothes and unshaven faces, hard merciless men who didn’t always do the right thing for the right reasons, and were portrayed by actors like Clint Eastwood, Franco Nero, and Lee Van Cleef.

The Magnificent Seven proved to be the bridge between these eras of movie westerns, combining aspects of each. The gunslingers who made up the seven mercenaries were down on their luck, destitute, on the run, and beginning to feel the irresistible encroachment of civilization, which would mark the end of their way of life—they would no longer find their usual opportunities for wealth and reward. They’re seriously dangerous people who when faced with the villagers’ accusation that the gunmen might rape the village women, Yul Brynner’s character replies, “Well, we might.” That concession was the shot that ended the role of the cowboy gunslinger as knight-errant. The actors portrayed the gunmen with a world-weary sense of angst and remorse. In essence, they were only good at killing people, and this was a lifestyle that was quickly fading away. In this way, The Magnificent Seven strongly resembles later movies like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). However, in this movie, these seven men are still driven to do what is right, to follow their own sense of duty and honor, no matter the personal cost, and even if they no longer have to do it. In that way, The Magnificent Seven displays its direct bloodline from earlier movies like Shane (1953) and High Noon (1952). The seven gunmen were exquisitely played by an all-star cast of veterans and newcomers like Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, and a relatively unknown German actor Horst Buchholz.

The plot for this movie is nearly timeless and boundless. A small village is being regularly and systematically terrorized by a bandit (Eli Wallach) and his small army of marauders. The village sends men to buy guns to fight the bandits with, but comes back with seven hired gunmen instead. The gunmen protect the village from the bandits, and in the process inspire the people to fight back, even in the face of desperately greater odds. The origins of this story date back to ancient Greece, where it was a 5th-century play entitled “Seven Against Thebes.” The movie itself was a direct remake of the famous Japanese epic by Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai (1954). The Magnificent Seven inspired three direct movie sequels and a brief television show of the same name. The story continues to be remade, spoofed and referenced in countless other movies and television shows. One notable adaption was a science fiction retelling: director Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) with Richard Thomas, John Saxon, and Robert Vaughn (Vaughn reprised his original role from The Magnificent Seven for this one). Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998) also provided a funny reimagining of this same plot, substituting grasshoppers for the bandits, ants for the villagers and circus performing bugs for the seven gunmen. I imagine this story will continue to be used far into the future.

This two-disc package is a real treat. It was mastered in high definition [and mapped down to standard def...Ed.] and is a pristine version of the original. The soundtrack is highlighted by one of the finest movie scores ever composed in the history of the media by Elmer Bernstein. The Coplandesque music is stirring, powerful and dramatic, and is as American as the West itself. It is a true landmark achievement that is discussed in a separate documentary. All of the extra documentaries and featurettes are informative and interesting. The main one, “Guns for Hire – The Making of The Magnificent Seven” is excellent and does a fine job revealing the challenges and complexities of bringing this movie into existence, including managing all the temperaments and demands of the talented and volatile cast. All of them are well worth viewing. At this moment [at least until it comes out on Blu-ray...Ed.], this is the definitive DVD set for The Magnificent Seven and it truly belongs in any fan’s collection. Highly recommended.

- Hermon Joyner
 




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