Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
NOTE: This review is for the 2001 single-disc MGM release of The Magnificent Seven. A newer two-disc special edition of this film is reviewed at This URL.
John Carpenter said it straight: The Magnificent Seven is neither the best nor the most meaningful of
the great Westerns, but it's possibly the most fun. After a slow start in theaters,
it's become one of the most
popular television movies ever, and has remained one of the high points of the genre for its clean
action, snappy script and wonderful music score.
A peasant village in Northern Mexico decides to hire Americans to ward off the depredations
of bandit chieftain Calvera (Eli Wallach). Unemployed Gunslinger Chris (Yul Brynner), just
in from Dodge City, recruits six more out-of work gun hands. For twenty dollars in pay and
room and board, they mosey on South of the Rio Grande, just seven to defend against Calvera's forty thieves.
Everyone compares The Magnificent Seven with its model, Seven Samurai, when there isn't really any
comparison between the two. The Kurosawa fantasy was considered too American, with its
anachronistic 'dialogue' between the farmer and samurai classes. The John Sturges remake is
the perfect John Kennedy fantasy: a world where American knowhow and firepower
reaches out to other nations with a good example and a lot of guns, rids them of their oppressors,
and earns their eternal respect. Although the script preaches the nobility of the
Mexican peasants, Yul Brynner's statement that, "Only the farmers win", is a bunch of hooey, even if
it has remained gospel to the American male. Americans with guns, it's been proven time
and again, cross the border to defend American interests, and not for charity. The farmers
win? Forget the farmers! We identify with the
ultra-cool, narcissistic gunfighters, the dudes with the great threads and macho attitudes. At the end,
they don't stand forlornly over the graves of their fallen comrades as did the samurai, but instead
ride away as heroes, with triumphant music lighting the way to new adventures. The dead
gunfighters will have songs sung over their graves - they're legends, superheroes, where the
farmers remain clueless squares.
Westerns really are about politics, and The Magnificent Seven were kind of a Peace Corps /Green
Berets combo. This fairy tale of mercenary killers being elevated and transformed by a noble
cause is not an outgrowth of the 'adult psychological' western of the '50s, but a new kind of
western where history (even John Ford's history) is irrelevant, and the trappings of style and
affectation are all.
Yul Brynner struts around, Steve McQueen acts alternately coy and petulant, Robert Vaughn
broods and whines, Charles Bronson is the sour hardass, and James Coburn does a zen act. Poor
Brad Dexter thinks he's in a movie from the '40s, unfortunately, and Horst Bucholz is having fun
playing Roy Rogers. After four years of television packed with Western shows focused on
shootin'-iron talents, the Western had finally reached the stage where the star's basic job was
to be a mobile weapons platform, in boots.
The Magnificent Seven is extremely well directed by John Sturges, an 'outdoor' director adept
at keeping his heroes laconic and cool. Most every setup could be hung on the wall as a painting;
when action happens, it's fast, motivated and convincing. All of the actors knew well how to
seize and hold the camera's attention, and part of the success of the movie is that the half-dozen
incompatible acting styles on screen never get a chance to clash - all the actors are really
emoting in their separate, egotistical little worlds! The wonderful Eli Wallach has
the only character with a personality ... and out-thesps the whole bunch of 'em.
MGM's DVD of The Magnificent Seven is a good show. The anamorphic 16:9 picture is
a huge improvement over the 1993 laserdisc in clarity and color. Savant has already read a lot
of criticism of the quality of the transfer, some of which is debatable and some of which is just
misinformed. The negative to Mag 7 had already faded way back when 1974
reissue prints were
made, and up until the early '90s, the only colors to be seen on the bad television prints was
brown, reddish brown, and a darker reddish brown. Some reviews also condemn the
graniness, claiming in one case that it looks like a 16mm source was used.
There are granier shots, but if you'll notice, almost all of them are optical sections, adjacent to
dissolves or other transitions. The 1960 film stock used to create these opticals faded at a
different rate than the rest of the movie, and had a coarser grain structure. Timing
negatives that have faded unevenly is almost impossible, on film or on tape. For color and
sharpness of picture, Savant has no gripes with Mag 7 on DVD.
It is frustrating to see all new transfers of older movies compared to the zowie job done
by Warners on North by NorthWest, a title behind which must have been placed a tremendous
restoration cash outlay. A lot of the beauty of NxNW lies in the fact that extensive digital
cleanup was applied to the video after mastering - removing flaws, scratches, dings, blemishes, and
bits of debris. It is an extra expense, but it is true that Mag 7 could have benefitted
greatly from this, especially in the title sequence. The second possible point of contention
fact that some studios are using straight minimum compression bit rates on all of their transfers.
Even when they get away with it, the authored disc can be left with a subtle, digitally
softening hard lines and lowering the contrast zing of the image. On a normal monitor,
Mag 7 looks terrific. On a large projection monitor, it looks far better than any
previous presentation, but not as snappy as the original digibeta tapes - almost, but not quite.
The disc has a commentary track with producer Walter Mirisch (who is proud as pumpkins over
this goldmine of a movie), a jovial James Coburn, the youthful-sounding Eli Wallach, and assistant
director (& later Steve McQueen producing partner) Robert Relyea. The track is an easy
listen, doesn't bog down in details, yet offers a constantly changing set of viewpoints
and anecdotes on the making of the film. The disc comes with two trailers and has MGM's
insufficient 16 chapter stops. 2
Savant participated in the production of the extra content on the Magnificent Seven disc,
which should be noted in judging the fairness and objectivity of the following comments. The
46-minute docu was originally meant to be a minor reworking of a show already produced for the
BBC in 2000. Then it became known that clearances were unavailable for almost all of the show's
film clips, photos, and even newspaper clippings. So the original PAL interview tapes were
brought to Los Angeles and
the show recut from top to bottom, retaining most of the interview bites and replacing all of the
clip sections with more exciting montages. The only major excision were an interesting couple of
minutes spent on a close comparison of the Sturges and Kurosawa films, that had used unclearable
Toho film clips. Cutting around these omissions without dropping mention of the Kurosawa version
was a major difficulty - even showing a vhs box of The Seven Samurai on a video
rack was a legal no-no. Elsewhere in the show, new sections were added to bolster the
presence of Horst Bucholz, who in the BBC version was made the butt of jokes and then dismissed as
not having the 'right stuff'. The ending was recut, to soften some awkward claims that
themes in the movie had never been seen before in Westerns. And the
BBC show had overdubbed actress Rosenda Monteros (Horst Bucholz's love interest)
with an English translation, that had effectively inverted the meaning of her words in Spanish.
These sections were retranslated and replaced. Also, the English crew's tapes had a nice
interview with the recently deceased actor/cameraman John Alonzo, but had not used any of it.
He was an enormously warm and respected Hollywood veteran, and we found space for him right away.
Savant tried to punch up the montages to compensate for the loss of dozens of interesting
stills in the BBC version that could not be used. Collectors with tape copies
of the original English show, which was wisely shot 16:9 and had great art direction, should hang
on to them.
Lisa McGuire of MGM tech services was the agent who engineered the great film restoration of
The Magnificent Seven. The very active Dolby Digital remix is actually a clever Chace
Productions concoction, as the only track to be had in the vaults was a mono composite.
Oh, and by the way, after watching the docu, in which Horst Bucholz admits to shooting himself in
the leg with a blank, take a close look at the lightning-fast draw that Steve McQueen performs in
the first faceoff with Calvera. Steve's first shot clearly goes off a split-frame after clearing
the holster - straight into the ground!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Magnificent Seven rates:
Supplements: Docu: Guns for Hire, still section, commentary track
Packaging: Keep Case
Reviewed: May 13, 2001
1. Check out trailer #2, the one with the gawd-awful title song,
in the added value section of the disc. No wonder Mag 7 had boxoffice grief the first
time around. The trailer's a hideous piece of work that would sink any
2. P.S.: Savant actually has a suggestion for the MGM DVD producers who, for the sake of
uniformity, are restricted to 16 chapter stops in the menu, even though a movie like this one
really needs a lot more. The laserdisc had 43! If 16 is the limit, so be it - go
ahead and restrict the menu chapters to 16, but add an unlinked, untitled
chapter stop for every scene change, so that one can still step through the movie a scene
at a time instead of having to jump to some arbitrary point 2 and 2/3 scenes ahead! In
The Hallelujah Trail there's a chapter stop for the overture music, and the first
scene, but none for the beginning of the movie!
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson
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