Top positive review
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One big hit, and 3 misfires.
on 26 June 2007
It's difficult to make one sweeping statement about a box set that has such a wide range of quality in it... 5 stars to one star in the same box set...
Suffice to say The Magnificent Seven is a classic - a movie inspired by a greater classic, `Seven Samurai'. There is a truly elegiac and iconic quality that few other Westerns ever reached. The score, the acting, the actors who all (well, almost all) went on to become big stars, and a message of hope for the average man and redemption for men who are willing to stand up for them. Crucially there is a baddie who is fully fleshed out, in a wonderfully nuanced performance by Eli Wallach - a part which is often overlooked in the success of the movie. If you haven't seen it, then this special edition is the way to go, with remastered sound and full of extras.
The others fail massively in two respects - firstly, none of them have a baddie as fully fleshed and worthy of the fight as Wallach. The `good guys' are focussed on with the baddie filling a mere two dimensional part of the story. Secondly, John Sturges who directed the original excelled as an ensemble director - every character in the original is memorable and given their moment to shine. The same is sadly not true of the others, which tend to focus primarily on the role of Chris, the principal gunfighter.
On the plus side, Elmer Bernstein scores them all - the classic and instantly hummable music almost becoming a character in the movies, and carrying the weaker sequels through their doldrums.
So how do the sequels shape up?
- Return of the Magnificent Seven ***
From the original in 1960, 6 years passed before a sequel came about. Yul Brynner returned, but Steve McQueen, by this time a rising star, did not. The replacement Robert Fuller in the role McQueen made his own, is a gaping black hole with his charisma and conviction sucked out, from which the movie does not recover. This movie is less heroic than the first - 10 years have passed and Chris and Vin have become melancholic as the West they know disappears, and the life they know with it. However, they find themselves going back to rescue their friend from the same village featured in the first movie. It is a bit of a stretch of a plot to wring out a sequel - the problem is that this sequel has nowhere to go... however it does make a stab at advancing the characters, while not shirking on the final gunfight, and Brynner has his moments of redeeming the others in his band as the journey progresses. Ironically the director, well known for TV but not theatrical movies, went on to film another TV sequel to a John Sturges movie - The Great Escape II.
- Guns of the Magnificent Seven ***
This time, George Kennedy fills Brynner's boots - or rather actually quite different boots. This is still the character of Chris, but now he has lost the trademark dark clothes, gained a head of hair and become more chatty.. however, he does keep his passion for long cigars...
This time Monte Markham co-stars as a Steve-McQueen-like role, significantly better than Fuller did in the previous movie. And George Kennedy is certainly no disaster in the role - he plays it with conviction and the same moral compass from the previous outings. This movie, as `Return...' was, is shot in Spain, and somehow the result is that the Mexicans are more believable characters. Again, the music and memories of the characters from the original, help carry through the plot holes and weak story. Kennedy does elevate the proceedings above forgettable, but not by much.
- The Magnificent Seven Ride! *
This surely must have been a TV movie - the acting, the sets, everything about it is downscaled. Even the music is done by a diminished orchestra - while still recognisable from its classic origins, it is a pale shadow of its past - the same for which can be said about the rest of the movie.
In fact, there is almost a nasty side to this movie. All the women they rescue have had their husbands killed and been raped multiple times - and yet when Chris's thugs (this time taken from prison) come into town to reluctantly rescue them, they respond by flirting and at the end we see one of the Seven stay to form a life with not one, but three of them! Even the character of Chris as played by Lee van Cleef is a nasty piece of work - embittered, refusing to help a friend and completely lacking the moral code from the previous movies. Perhaps this was truly a sign of the times as the disillusionment of the 70's broke the optimism that was the trademark of the American Western, and the revenge cycle of Italian Westerns became the norm.
In short, the sequels are not disasters, but don't deserve to share the same name as the original. Casting is sporadically interesting, but lacks the genius of the original. No extras other than trailers on any of the sequel discs.
If you're a Western fan , or just have to know what the sequels to a classic movie are like, then this is the way to get them - preferably as a rental. But if it is the original you want and you're wondering whether to go the whole way and get all four..? I suggest stick to getting the original.