In 1960 John Sturges directed a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai as a western. The Magnificent Seven stars Yul Brynner and Steven McQueen as gunfighters who are hired to save a small Mexican village from a bandit. Notable actors James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson appear in smaller roles as a part of the seven. The story itself is simplistic with a minimal amount of character development, but the performances and gunfights amp up the entertainment level.
A small farming village south of the border is terrorized year after year by a ruthless bandit, named Calvera, (Eli Wallach) and his gang. They take the village’s food, money, and their young women. In an act of desperation three of the villagers cross the border into a nearby western town in search of someone to help drive the bandits away. They don’t have much money to offer, and are clearly hoping to appeal to someone’s humanitarian sensibilities. They find that some in Chris (Brynner) and Vin (McQueen). In one of the best scenes of the movie, the villagers witness the gunmen assist in giving a Native American a proper burial amongst a town of protesting racists (even in 1960 this was progressive thinking).
The villagers persuade Chris and Vin to help them. Chris then sets about recruiting the rest of his team of seven. Despite being able to only offer twenty dollars apiece Chris is able to round up a gang of gunslingers willing to go along. Each man has his own reason for going, and none of reasons involve needing extra cash. Young Chico (Horst Bucholz) idolizes Chris and wants to prove his gun fighting abilities to him; Lee (Vaughn) is an outlaw on the run; Britt (Coburn) is a misfit who is an expert with his switchblade; Bernardo (Bronson) is half Irish and half Mexican and has sympathy for his common roots, and Harry (Brad Dexter) is searching for buried treasure.
The assembly of the gang takes up a good portion of the film. Each character is introduced and persuaded to join with the exception of Chico who forces himself into the gang by riding after them. Though a lot of time is given to finding the seven not a lot of story is given to actually developing the characters. Once the group arrives at the Mexican village the gunmen attempt to teach the townspeople to defend themselves. This is when we do get some good scenes involving Bernardo bonding with the children and Chico becoming infatuated with one of the women. German actor Horst Bucholz is a standout as the brash Chico. He brings some humor and excitement to the otherwise deadly serious gunslingers.
Brynner projects a strong presence as Chris. Chris is a man of principle who doesn’t back down no matter what he is faced with. McQueen’s Vin is more laid back, but also tough and unfaltering. The two actors bring an added to weight to what could have been a very generic gunslinger movie. The final battle with Calvera’s men is the big payoff to a very slow build. The scene is good, but may seem a bit anti-climactic by today’s standards. Overall The Magnificent Seven is a good western that is elevated by a strong cast, good performances, and an excellent score from composer Elmer Bernstein.
The Blu-ray picture quality is excellent. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC encoded HD. This is the same transfer that was used in the box set of the entire series released last year. The colors are bright and the scenery is vivid and sharp. Faces are detailed and the images are clear. The sound is presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The 1960 film was not originally mastered for surround sound but the rear speakers are used for bullet sounds, ambient noise, and the score. The dialog is clear and easy to understand. Bernstein’s score stands out the most, with each nuance apparent.
There is a hefty amount of special features included on this Blu-ray, though most were already available on the previously released Collector’s Edition DVD. A lengthy documentary called “Guns For Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven runs just over forty-five minutes and offers a comprehensive look at the making of the film. There are two fifteen minute featurettes, one about Elmer Berstein’s score and the other is a collection of lost images that were discovered in storage long after the film was released. There is a feature commentary also carried over from the Collector’s Edition DVD. The track includes Eli Wallach, James Coburn, producer Walter Mirisch, and assistant director Robert Relyea.