Friday, January 19, 2007

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (The Mirisch Company 1960) MGM Home Video

It’s rare that a Hollywood movie should improve upon an original foreign film. Whether it’s the fact that certain cultural differences preclude a literal/direct translation is a moot point when considering The Magnificent Seven (1960) the inspired revisionist western based on Akira Kurosawa’s Seventh Samurai (1954). The film stars Yul Brynner as Chris Adams, a retired gunslinger who is bound by a sense of duty to pick up his pistols and free a small Mexican village from its oppressive regime of banditos fronted by Calvera (Eli Wallach).

Steve McQueen costars as Vin, a rather dispassionate and unlikely comrade who, after aiding Chris is the burial of an Indian in a local ‘all white’ cemetery, joins up as one of the six remaining liberators comprising Chris’s entourage.
Then a relative newcomer to films (though he had made a stunning debut on television), McQueen was both in awe and slightly jealous of Brynner’s established stardom. The two did get on during the shoot, but there remained a quiet animosity between them, further sullied by McQueen’s subtle need to upstage Brynner – even in scenes where he (McQueen) had no dialogue.

The film remains remarkably adept at exploring and analyzing each man’s motives for signing on to the mission; Bernardo’s (Charles Bronson) need to belong to something and someone; Lee’s (Robert Vaughn) desperate attempt to defy his own fear and regain his status and composure in the face of death; Chico’s (Horst Buchholz) passion to prove himself as a hero – what he perceives are the rest of the men he admires, Harry (Brad Dexter) and Britt’s (James Coburn) cold pursuit of the all mighty buck.

After chasing Calvera and his posse from the village, the boys celebrate their victory by getting close to the natives – a bonding that softens their hearts. The climactic showdown is a sobering experience – this isn’t your typical John Wayne feel good ‘men-in-white’ triumphant processional; a cinematic landscape where the good guys don’t always finish first and sometimes die on the side of justice with their honorable intentions affixed.

MGM DVD’s deluxe 2 disc edition at long last provides a relatively clean and sharp anamorphically enhanced image. The previously released (and still readily available ‘Special Edition’ from MGM DVD is a poor cousin to this disc, both in extras and, more directly in image quality – it should be avoided at all costs for this newer Deluxe Edition)
Shot on Ansco film stock (notorious for fading and muddy reproduction) MGM’s DVD actually delivers a faithful recreation of what the movie must have looked like on its premiere. Colors are rich and vibrant (for Ansco color, that is). Flesh tones appear a tad pasty at times and occasionally too orange (again, for Ansco this is an unfortunate expectation) but overall the color palette is nicely contrasted with deep blacks and almost clean whites (that appear slightly yellow or beige, rather than true vibrant white – Ansco stock, again).

The aforementioned ‘Special Edition’ was riddled with a barrage of age related artifacts. For the most part these have been cleaned up on the Deluxe Edition, though occasionally a scratch or two, or perhaps inconsistent flickering in color still appears. These are minimal quibbling however for an image that will undoubtedly be welcomed and much preferred over the previously issued DVD. The audio has been remixed to 5.1 and is a sonically bombastic experience, particularly music cues and gun shots.

Extras include several featurettes that sum up the greatness and making of the film. There’s also the original theatrical trailer and an audio commentary to consider.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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