THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayOne of the first movies my dad bought on VHS was "The Magnificent Seven" (1960). That was in the 1980s and I've been hooked on this film ever since.
"The Magnificent Seven" is now available on Blu-ray.
As the old timers used to say, this is a rousing good time at the movies. In my case, it's a rousing good time in the home theater. Director John Sturges guides the film's famous actors through a (mostly) fast-paced yarn, and he does it with authority. This is a confident western with a great sense of humor, dignity, and heart. It has the spirit of 1939's "The Adventures of Robin Hood" in which even after repeated viewings, it's always watchable.
A good deal of the film's charm comes from the solid performances. Yul Brynner is humble, brave, and stoic as Chris. Steve McQueen puts in a likable performance as Vin. Eli Wallach is completely fun as Calvera. Charles Bronson actually got me misty eyed with his role as Bernardo. And what can you say about the silent role of James Coburn as Britt? Simply wonderful.
It's been pointed out that "The Magnificent Seven" isn't a great western. I disagree. It is a great western because by the end of it, you want to stand up and let out a whoop and a holler. It's one of those rare westerns that gets you involved with the characters and their plight. The Mexican villagers are humble, yet brave people. You admire their tenacity. You admire the bravery of the Magnificent Seven. Helping the villagers isn't about money. It's about doing what's right.
I have always loved this film. Granted, it was based on Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" (1954). "The Magnificent Seven" still feels original and very American. I get a sense that it stayed within the spirit and honor that was infused in Kurosawa's classic. I must admit that I have not seen the Japanese master's film totally, so I cannot compare the films fairly. The bottom line is that "The Magnificent Seven" stands tall.
The opening act is beautifully set up with Calvera and his men making their demands on the poor villagers. The scene in which Chris and Vin take the Indian up to the cemetery is totally exciting, setting up Chris and Vin's honorable ways and commitment to do good. The film only suffers, at least for me, in two areas. Actor Horst Bucholz uses his early-60s method of overacting. I'm not sure if it came from the Stella Adler style of acting which was popular during the 1950s and 1960s, but his role has always grated me. The only other fault of the film is the middle act in which there is very little action. In no way do these minor distractions take away from the film as a whole.
The Blu-ray picture is excellent. Filmed in Panavision, the widescreen picture is clear and fairly sharp in the daytime scenes. The film may have been modestly budgeted, so it's rather disappointing that it wasn't filmed in 65mm. This would've been the perfect vehicle for a large format film presentation. There are some sections in the presentation which, by my recollection, have always looked grainy. This is due to the optical dissolves in some sequences, and perhaps poor film stock in others. Nonetheless, this is the best I've ever seen the film look.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is very good. The original recording of Elmer Bernstein's excellent score and the film's sound effects are relatively weak. Bernstein's score is presented on the Blu-ray with a decent results, but the rest of the soundtrack is centered mainly in the middle of the soundstage. This isn't a problem, as the soundtrack seems to follow the original mono sound pretty closely.
Though not perfect, "The Magnificent Seven" is still one of the best westerns ever made. I think I might just watch it again.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. All rights reserved.