The Magnificent Seven, 1960.
Directed by John Sturges.
Starring Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Horst Buchholz, Brad Dexter, and James Coburn.
John Sturges’ classic The Magnificent Seven arrives on 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Shout! Factory, which commissioned a digital restoration based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative. It looks like it just opened in movie theaters today, and while Shout! didn’t produce any new extras for this 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray edition, they did bring over a healthy helping of bonus features from past home video editions.
I always enjoy pointing out that Seven Samurai was such an important movie that it was remade as The Magnificent Seven (itself remade in 2016), but its major plot points also show up in the Pixar gem A Bug’s Life (yes, along with the premise of the story “The Ant and the Grasshopper”).
I’d imagine that the basics of the premise — a group of villagers harassed by bandits recruit seven gunmen to help them — show up in other places too, but A Bug’s Life is the one that always comes to mind for me, especially since it’s unexpected.
Director John Sturges and screenwriter William Roberts transplanted the story from feudal Japan to an indeterminate time during the Old West. Eli Wallach assumes the role of Calvera, who leads a group of bandits that harass farming village in Mexico on a regular basis, taking their food and whatever else they want.
Fed up with the situation, three of the villagers set out to recruit gunmen to help them. Their first sign-up is Chris (Yul Brynner), a wanderer who displays a strong sense of right and wrong to them when he and another drifter, Vin (Steve McQueen), risk their lives to bring the body of a Native American to Boot Hill to be buried, against the angry protests of locals.
Chris and Vin team up to lead the recruitment drive, which results in a ragtag group of gunmen who head to Mexico to help the villagers. The others are played by a formidable group of acting talent: Charles Bronson as Bernardo O’Reilly, a down-on-his-luck gun for hire; Robert Vaughn as Lee, a war veteran who hides his PTSD; Brad Enter as Harry Luck, who’s always looking for a big score and assumes Chris knows about one; and James Coburn as the knife expert Britt.
Horst Buchholz takes on the role of the seventh gunman, Chico, who is originally turned away by Chris but persistently follows the group until he’s allowed to join them. He turns out to be a bit of a hothead, but he’s also willing to put his life on the line for the mission.
Whether or not you’ve seen The Seven Samurai, the story still unfolds in a fairly predictable way, as the seven gunmen teach the farmers how to defend themselves during the build-up to a pair of battles. Too bad the final one didn’t take place in the rain, like in The Seven Samurai — that’s an iconic battle that deserves a spot on the list of the best ones in cinema history.
That said, The Magnificent Seven is a fun romp through the Old West, with a great cast full of actors who were in their prime and an Elmer Bernstein score with a main theme that’s been reused in many places during the past 63 years. If you haven’t seen it and you enjoy westerns and/or Kurosawa’s samurai films, you should check it out.
Shout! Factory has brought the film to 4K Ultra HD with a digital restoration of a 4K scan of the original camera negative. The Magnificent Seven has an intentionally muted color palette, but it looks spectacular here. As with many other 4K discs, this is the pinnacle of the film’s home video presentation: it looks great on a mid-range setup, which is what most people have these days.
Shout! also included a Blu-ray with a copy of the film and the bulk of the bonus features, which were ported over from past editions. I’m not sure if the Blu-ray uses the same restoration as the 4K disc or if it’s the same one previously issued in 2011, but it’s still an acceptable way to watch the film.
The extras provide a ton of insight into the making of the film, starting with a pair of commentary tracks found on both discs. Culled from old DVD releases but still relevant, both tracks offer a wealth of information, starting with film historian Sir Christopher Frayling’s chat. It’s one of those “film class in a box” tracks that I personally really enjoy; I hope you do too.
The other track features actors James Coburn and Eli Wallach joined by producer Walter Mirisch, and assistant director Robert Relyea. It’s also a solid track, complete with plenty of stories about Sturges, but it does lapse into silence a few too many times, which tends to be the bane of moderator-less group commentaries.
The Blu-ray rounds out the rest of the bonus features:
• Sir Christopher Frayling on The Magnificent Seven (20 minutes): The film historian shows up again to discuss the film. There’s a little bit of overlap with his commentary track, but not too much, so this is a worthwhile extra to watch.
• Guns For Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven (47 minutes): Not every making-of needs to be the length of a feature film, but it’s nice when one of these documentaries gives the subject time to breathe, rather than try to zip through everything in 20-25 minutes. Members of the cast and crew look back on the making of the film, joined by folks like actor Chazz Palminteri, director John Carpenter, and writer/director Lawrence Kasdan talking about their love of the film.
• Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven (15 minutes): If you’re a movie score person (I’ll confess I don’t pay as much attention to film scores as I should), you’ll enjoy this chat with film music historian Jon Burlingame about Bernstein’s iconic score.
• The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven (15 minutes): This is an interesting extra: Maggie Adams, who ran MGM Home Entertainment’s photo archive at the time (and maybe still does), discusses the discovery of a linen-covered book documenting the making of the movie. (Given the ability to meticulously keep track of such things in databases these days, I often wonder if discoveries like this will still happen in the future.) She’s joined by assistant director Robert Relyea and actor Eli Wallach as they talk about the memories associated with many of the pictures.
A pair of theatrical trailers and a stills gallery round out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★