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The Magnificent Seven [Special Edition] [DVD] [1960]

Release Date:05/08/2001
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John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven has finally gotten the treatment that it deserves, 41 years after its original release, complete with an accompanying narration, a feature-length documentary about its making, and a bunch of trailers. The movie, now considered one of a handful of classic Westerns -- alongside John Ford's Stagecoach and My Darling Clementine, Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, and Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo -- was dumped on the U.S. market in 1960, closed quickly, became a massive hit overseas, and was re-released here to massive success. United Artists, still oblivious to what they had, sold it to television very quickly, then degraded the original with a series of ever-poorer sequels. It was issued at least three times on laserdisc, the first two in totally unacceptable full-screen and letterboxed editions, then one last time in an improved version from a partly restored source, with an unmixed music track (not on the DVD) and with the first sequel, Return of the Magnificent Seven, appended. This DVD makes that last laserdisc almost irrelevant, except for the presence of the unmixed music on the latter -- but even that has been made somewhat obsolete with the release of the actual soundtrack from the film (there was no soundtrack LP released in 1960). The picture is sharp and the colors rich and solid (though one suspects a full-blown restoration might look even better in that regard), and the contrasts are about all that one could hope for. The audio is a little muted, but pumps up alright and very cleanly; overall this is the best way to see the movie in 40 years. The bonus materials are as big a treat as the presentation of the movie. Eli Wallach, Walter Mirisch, James Coburn, and Robert Relyea (the assistant to director/producer Sturges) are dazzling in their recollections, and glowing in their recollections of Sturges' work, but also in their appreciation of Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, the source for this movie. It's also interesting to hear the contrast between the recollections of how the project originated here, versus the material on the documentary film that also appears on the disc -- associate producer Louis Morheim rightfully claims credit on the latter for generating the idea, though Yul Brynner also claimed for years that he had conceived of the notion. The discussion is warm, funny, and lively, and the only thing that might have made it better would be if Sturges had lived to record this track; when Sturges recorded his audio track for Criterion's laserdisc edition of The Great Escape in 1992, he expressed the fervent wish that he be asked to do one for The Magnificent Seven. And one wishes that the producers could have gotten Brad Dexter to contribute, and that there were fewer long blank stretches, though the unnarrated portions are interesting and exciting to watch. The documentary makes for good viewing on its own, and would have been worth a ten dollar bonus charge. One key element of the production that has seldom been discussed anywhere are the problems that the film ran into with the Mexican government. It was considered essential, both for verisimilitude and to avoid an impending writers' strike, that The Magnificent Seven be shot in Mexico, but Robert Aldrich's film Vera Cruz, which had been shot there (and was also a UA film), had outraged the government with what it felt was the offensive portrayal of the Mexican population. It took some serious diplomacy on the part of Sturges and the other makers of the movie -- and the presence of a censor from the government on the set to approve virtually every shot and line of dialogue -- to get The Magnificent Seven approved. The menu opens automatically on start-up, the "Special Features" section is easy to access and manipulate, the chapter markers are generous and well chosen, and the disc is accompanied by a souvenir booklet about the production.



Audio commentary by Eli Wallach, James Coburn, and Walter Mirisch

Photo Gallery

Collectible booklet

Original theatrical trailers