The Magnificent Seven & Return of the Seven on Blu-ray
by Jef Burnham
Now available on individual Blu-ray releases from MGM Home Entertainment.
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Although each film has been given its own individual release by MGM, I’ve decided to review them together for the simple reason that I simply couldn’t see myself owning one without the other. This is not to say that the films are one another’s equals by any means. In fact, whereas The Magnificent Seven (1960), with its unbelievable cast and solid reworking of Seven Samurai, is something of a full-blown classic, its 1966 follow-up Return of the Seven (or Return of the Magnificent Seven as it is referred to on the cover of the BD release) is considerably lacking by comparison. What Return of the Seven does have that its predecessor did not, however, is Warren Oates, one of my all-time favorite performers, cast as one of the titular seven.
The premise of The Magnificent Seven is, as indicated above, borrowed from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, as seven gunmen join forces to rescue a small, Mexican farming village from the clutches of a gang of bandits. Although a bit on the short side when compared to Seven Samurai, sure The Magnificent Seven tells its tale effectively enough; but it’s really the all-star ensemble cast that makes the film a success. The film stars Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Horst Bucholz (in the Toshiro Mifune equivalent role); and, in addition, was directed by John Sturges, who would bring much of the same cast back together again three years later in The Great Escape.
Return of the Seven finds the surviving members of the group reunited when Chico (previously played by Horst Bucholz) is taken captive by yet another, larger gang of bandits. The film does many of the same things the original had and reiterates all the same ideas and messages, but, admittedly, it does so fairly well, although primarily through dialogue. But the film’s nearly fatal flaw is, as already mentioned, that some of the returning characters are not played by the original actors. And not only is Bucholz replaced, but so is Steve McQueen— as if that’s even possible! In fact, the only actor to return from among the original seven is Yul Brynner. Notable among Brynner’s co-stars this time around are Fernando Rey and, of course, Warren Oates. While McQueen’s replacement, Robert Fuller, doesn’t have nearly the chemistry Brynner and McQueen had had in The Magnificent Seven, Oates and Brynner very nearly do, making their scenes among the best in the film. Moreover, Oates, in his four or so major scenes, does much to liven up what would otherwise be merely a passable film.
The HD transfer of The Magnificent Seven is nearly flawless with a consistently sharp and vibrant picture throughout. The only places where the quality is diminished is during titles, dissolves, and fades as a result of these techniques’ optical printing at the time of the film’s production. As such, the diminished quality here has nothing whatsoever to do with MGM’s transfer. Return of the Seven didn’t fare quite so well in its transfer, however, in many instances as a direct result of the film elements’ aging, causing numerous color fluctuations throughout. To solve this particular problem would have required a massive restoration, which is hardly justified by the release’s limited appeal and $12.99 price tag. Additionally, Return shows considerable amounts of debris, softness of image, and, at times, a desaturation of color.
The stylized, animated menus for these releases are quite cool, and the special features on The Magnificent Seven are pleasantly extensive. The 47-minute featurette “Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven” included on the 2001 Special Edition returns here, as does the audio commentary with James Coburn, Eli Wallach, and Executive Producer Walter Mirsch. Also included are the featurettes “Elmer Bernstein and The Magnificent Seven” and the fascinating “The Linen Book: Lost Images from The Magnificent Seven,” as well as original theatrical trailers and a still gallery. Unfortunately, Return of the Seven isn’t quite so blessed as its predecessor in the special features department, containing merely the film’s theatrical trailer. Of course, it’s listed arbitrarily as “Trailer 1,” prompting viewers to search for additional features (such as a “Trailer 2,” for instance) that should be but simply aren’t there.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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