DVD Review HTF Review: The Steve McQueen Collection

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, May 25, 2005.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    The Steve McQueen Collection

    Studio: MGM
    Year: Various
    Rated: Various
    Running Time: Various
    Aspect Ratio: Various
    Subtitles: Various
    Audio: Various

    Release Date:
    May 17th, 2005

    Running Time: 100 Minutes
    Rated: PG
    Video: Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Audio: Monaural (English)
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish

    Distilled down to its essence, Junior Bonner can be characterized as a thoughtful, touching Western about a former rodeo champion who is now past his prime, and must analyze his life to determine what is most important to him. As the film opens, J.R. “Junior” Bonner (Steve McQueen), an aging bull rider, is heading back to his hometown of Prescott, Arizona for the annual Independence Day rodeo. Injured by an ornery bull at the last rodeo he participated in, J.R. is hoping for the opportunity to redeem his failure by hopping on the beast’s back for another attempt.

    While in town, J.R. pays a visit to his mother Ellie (Ida Lupino), the proprietor of a small antique shop, and discovers that his father Ace (Robert Preston) is currently being hospitalized for minor injuries suffered in an accident. He is also given the disturbing news that his brother Curly (Joe Don Baker) bought out their father’s ranch for far less than its market value, and has been plotting to sell off Ellie's antique shop as well, so he can set her up in a mobile home at the new Reata Ranch trailer park he is running.

    J.R. takes a little time to let all he has learned sink in, and then goes to see his dad, who was once well known on the rodeo circuit, but has most recently been fruitlessly prospecting for precious metals. Indeed, despite his lack of success, he still believes that riches are awaiting him, and he is planning a trip to yet another location where he is sure his fortune is lying in wait. He also laments the fact that he squandered most of the money that Curly had given him on broads and booze, and seems upset that Curly will not supply additional funds for his next prospecting expedition.

    But as the old maxim goes, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, which may explain why J.R. displays some of his father's tendencies to cling doggedly to a dream. To be certain, J.R. is a tad long in the tooth to be hanging around the rodeo circuit, and yet he persists in making an appearance at each successive rodeo. Ironically, most of the folks he comes across, from his shady brother Curly to businessman Buck Roan (Ben Johnson), want to bring J.R. into the fold as a business partner, but he turns each of them down flat, electing to continue participating in the rodeos instead.

    In looking more closely at the character, it can be argued that J.R. Bonner, is among the last of dying breed; a man struggling to cope with the cultural/industrial changes that are reshaping his world. Still, however, “Junior” is resilient, and decides to go against the grain instead of riding off into the gentle glow of an amber sunset, like most heroes of the West do when their day is done. Though he would undoubtedly be more comfortable in decades that have long since been overrun by the sands of time, J.R. is determined to find a way to make his preferred existence fit the times.

    The J.R. Bonner character is also enriched by Steve McQueen’s portrayal, which was as organic and effortless as any he ever put forth. Although he may be better remembered for his roles in Bullitt or The Great Escape, McQueen was probably never better than he is in Junior Bonner, as he makes his character a likable, honorable (for the most part), and complex rodeo cowboy, who is faced with the challenges of accepting his fading fame and dealing with some pretty serious family troubles.

    As Ace, an all-round scoundrel, former rodeo man, and J.R.’s father, Robert Preston also turns out to be an engaging presence. Indeed, he makes Ace brash and rugged, and yet somehow immensely charming, although it is abundantly clear why his marriage to Ellie did not work out. Speaking of Ellie, Ida Lupino is absolutely phenomenal in her role as a woman struggling to hold off her son’s assault on her independence, and she really shows off her acting chops during her interaction with her character’s former husband.

    The movie also scores points in the detail and the editing departments, especially in terms of the close-ups used by Peckinpah for punctuation. Indeed, Peckinpah was always a masterful editor, and Junior Bonner is a good vehicle to exemplify the smooth, natural way he cuts films together. His shots are usually very well planned and perfectly timed, and in this case, even the slow motion shots flow together seamlessly while the story is being moved along. Basically, in terms of its subject matter, this film is quite a departure from the more violent works Sam Peckinpah is known for, but his editing here is no less solid.

    Lastly, as I alluded to earlier, the fine performances by a very talented cast give an aura of authenticity to the film, though some might argue that Peckinpah goes a little overboard with the imagery of construction crews leveling off land formerly occupied by “cowboys” to erect the more urban settings associated with modern society. In spite of this quibble about Peckinpah’s use of visual cues, however, Junior Bonner is an enjoyable film, highlighted by excellent character development and a realistic look at how the residents of a small town cope with the painful process of change.

    Running Time: 172 Minutes
    Rated: Not Rated
    Video: Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Audio: Monaural (English & French)
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish

    Based on the actual escape of 79 Allied POWs from the “escape-proof” German detention facility, Stalag Luft III, The Great Escape tells the emotionally resonant story of a group of Allied officers who bravely orchestrated one of the largest prison breaks of World War II. Essentially, the story begins before their arrival, when the Nazi regime elected to place POWs deemed to be flight risks into the new high-security facility. In most cases, these prisoners had attempted to escape previously, sometimes on several occasions, so putting these “rotten eggs into one basket” seemed to be a good idea.

    Unfortunately for the Germans, placing these escape artists into a single facility did not give them the kind of control they had sought. On the contrary, it actually allowed these escape artists to work together on an elaborate multi-pronged scheme to break out of the prison. It has also been argued that the escape was devised not only to free a large number of prisoners, but also to tie up as much of the German military machine as possible in tracking escapees down, while their allies continued to fight the Germans on the outside.

    While it took the concerted effort of a great many POWs to execute the plan, a small group of individuals, such as Roger Bushell and Wally Floody, did most of the mental gymnastics involved. These men coordinated the digging of tunnels (affectionately known as “Tom”, “Dick”, and “Harry”), the efforts to craft the uniforms and papers the men would need after escape, and helped keep the men focused on their sworn duty to either escape or impede the German military machine as best they could.

    Now undoubtedly, most of you reading this either know this story well, or have seen the movie by now, but I intend to keep plot details as vague as possible, in the event you have not. As such, I will now turn my attention to the brilliant acting by the ensemble cast. Specifically, in addition to the magnificent performances from Garner and McQueen, the film also benefits immensely from the talents of the other screen legends that round out the cast. Seriously, just take a look at this group of actors: Richard Attenborough (as Roger “Big X” Bartlett); James Coburn (as Louis Sedgewick); Donald Pleasance (who plays Colin Blythe); James Donald (as Rupert Ramsey); and Charles Bronson (who plays Danny Velinski) could easily headline almost any film, and all do a great job here. As an aside, Garner really was a “scrounger” in the Army, and Donald Pleasance actually did time in a German POW camp (Stalag Luft I).

    Arguably, however, Steve McQueen’s character is the focal point of this film, and he outshines his fellow actors by turning in a performance that is cocky, exciting, and truly memorable. From the confidence and resolve he displays in helping his fellow officers escape, to the show-stopping exhibition of his motorcycle-riding prowess in the German countryside, McQueen is the epitome of unrelenting courage and selfless bravery. As I mentioned above though, the other guys do a very good job as well, and their effectiveness as an ensemble influenced later films like The Dirty Dozen, and Kelly’s Heroes.

    To be sure, while The Great Escape is a pretty accurate interpretation of the titular event, the filmmakers and performers did take some dramatic license with these men’s story. In particular, the sheer number of those involved in the escape made it necessary to make the principal characters composites of the POWs involved in the breakout, by combining elements of several real life officers into them. Additionally, although the prison housed mostly Australian and English officers, a pair of American officers (using the movie characters’ names), named Captain Virgil Hilts (Steve McQueen) and Lieutenant Bob Hendley (James Garner) figured prominently in the movie version of the escape. Obviously, the wild motorcycle escape and chase never happened either, and all of the other discrepancies are covered exhaustively in the supplemental materials.

    Suffice it to say that the vast majority of movies are made to make money, and this one was no exception, so the story was tweaked a bit. Still, most of the story is factually sound, according to some of those who survived a stay in Stalag Luft III. This is due in large part to the filmmakers having access to those who had survived. For instance, former POW Wally Floody played a large role in helping to ensure the sets were as accurate as possible. More importantly, even though the truth was stretched in some instances, the way the filmmakers stayed true to the spirit of the story, and paid tribute to the brave souls who carried out the ambitious plan to break out of Stalag Luft III, was remarkable (at least to me).

    Despite a few very minor quibbles I had with the film, like how easy the life of the POWs seemed at times, or how effortlessly the POWs seemed to obtain contraband, the prisoners’ battle to outwit their German captors was pulled off quite well. But where I think The Great Escape really shines is how well the filmmakers capture the spirit of the historical event. Indeed, in my mind, this film stands as an enduring classic, featuring magnificent performances by the ensemble cast, a fairly faithful rendering of a compelling and true story, tremendous attention to detail, and excellent execution by the filmmakers.

    Add to that an uplifting, memorable score by Elmer Bernstein, and this nearly three-hour film really seems to zip on by! To be honest, I generally won’t go out of my way to watch “war films”, but this is one that has me in its hooks. If you haven’t seen it yet, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! It really does belong on the short list of the greatest war/adventure movies ever made!

    Running Time: 102 Minutes
    Rated: R
    Video: Widescreen (1.85:1) and “Full Screen”
    Audio: Monaural (English)
    Subtitles: English and French

    The original version of The Thomas Crown Affair, released in 1968, is more notable for Norman Jewison’s stylish direction and the chemistry between its two ultra-sexy stars, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, than for the substance of writer Alan R. Trustman’s screenplay. Fortunately, interesting visuals and the heat generated by McQueen and Dunaway’s interplay makes the movie a lot of fun to watch, in spite of the so-so plot about a crafty bank robber and the agent trying to track him down.

    The story goes something like this: The illustrious Thomas Crown - one of Boston’s most prominent and successful citizens – has a dark secret. The secret is that this respected, seemingly upstanding man has a passion for committing crimes that will make the papers. Mind you, it is not because he needs money, but because he enjoys the challenge of risking his reputation and freedom by taking on the authorities. For Thomas, it is all a game, and the funds he takes away from a heist are less a motivating factor than a reminder that he has the tools to make those trying to stop him look foolish.

    As we join the story, Mr. Crown is planning another big “game” involving the Boston Mercantile Bank. To pull off this latest heist, Thomas enlists the help of seven men, giving each one instructions that must be followed to the letter. Since the henchmen do not deviate from this careful plan, all goes well, and just like that, Crown is nearly $3 million more in the black. Unfortunately for Thomas, the bank’s insurance carrier wants a complete and thorough investigation of the incident, so they assign one of their top agents, the lovely Vicky Anderson, to follow up on the robbery.

    Initially, Vicky meets with Detective Eddy Malone (Paul Burke), who has already been working leads on the case but has no idea of who commited the crime, to get her bearings. Subsequently, she meets Thomas, and sensing that he may be her mark, Vicky coolly reveals her occupation and talks about her investigation, in a calculated attempt to make Mr. Crown incriminate himself. Since Thomas is no ordinary thief, however, he catches onto Agent Anderson’s game, and matches her move for move. Interestingly, as each tries to outwit the other, the sexual tension between them becomes overwhelming, and they enter into a torrid affair, which threatens to bring even greater risk to both parties.

    From there, the suspense in The Thomas Crown Affair grows, especially in terms of whether Vicky will actually turn Thomas over to the authorities, and whether her affair with him will land her in any trouble. While director Norman Jewison slowly ratchets up the tension, he always keeps the budding (and dangerous) romance between Vicky and Thomas center-stage, much to the film’s benefit. The obvious highlight of their interactions is a sensual chess match (mimicked in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), which is short on dialogue but laden with suggestive glances and sexually charged imagery.

    Speaking of images, let’s continue by treating with cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s work, which gives the film a polished, vibrant look, highlighted by some clever split-screen sequences. Though somewhat gimmicky by today’s standards, I imagine the impact of the technique, which allows the actions of multiple characters to be seen simultaneously, must have been much greater when The Thomas Crown Affair was released, and split-screen was still young and fresh. Personally, I don’t mind the technique even now, provided it is used tastefully.

    Getting away from style for a minute, in thinking about it, I am not sure the lead roles could have been cast any better. Let’s begin with Steve McQueen, who was already a bona fide movie star, with films like The Great Escape, The Blob, and The Magnificent Seven on his resume before taking on The Thomas Crown Affair. At the time, most people may have wondered why an action star was chosen to play the smooth, dapper, and sharp-witted Thomas Crown, but in addition to looking right for the part, McQueen’s uncommon acting ability certainly justified his selection, at least in my opinion.

    Conversely, while Faye Dunaway had much less film experience than Steve McQueen, she had already built quite a reputation on her standout performance in Bonnie and Clyde. And although part of the reason for her being cast was that she was very easy on the eyes, Ms. Dunaway proved to have the chops to hold her own against her iconic counterpart, making her character every bit as calculating and fun to watch as rival/lover Thomas Crown. Don’t get me wrong, neither actor turns in the performance of their career in this film, but they are believable, and the chemistry proves to have been just about perfect!

    The other thing I liked about The Thomas Crown Affair is how the film essentially plays as one big game of cat-and-mouse. For me, this was true of everything from the way the lead characters engage each other to how Norman Jewison keeps viewers on their toes. As I mentioned, I did not find the story to be the most substantial, but Jewison’s style trumps this, and he did more than enough right to make me buy into the interesting proposition of a thief and investigator challenging each other at the same time they are entering into a romantic relationship.

    To sum things up, I though The Thomas Crown Affair was a fun, stylish story of the romance between two interesting characters that just happen to be in the middle of the investigation into a big bank heist. With that in mind, the real joy of this film is watching Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway play off one another, which the fairly “thin” plot allows them to do! The Thomas Crown Affair may not be the best “heist” film out there, and it may not be either Faye Dunaway or Steve McQueen’s best work, but it sure is enjoyable, even after repeated viewings, which makes it an easy recommendation!

    Running Time: 128 Minutes
    Rated: Not Rated
    Video: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English); Monaural – English, French, and Spanish

    The Magnificent Seven, a classic Western, and the second-most played film on American television, came along at a somewhat ironic time - just as the proliferation of Westerns on TV were sending the grand, “traditional” Westerns that had graced the silver screen riding off into the sunset. Fortunately, director John Sturges decided there was still reason enough to make another great Western film for movie patrons, this one an inspired take on Akira Kurosawa’s superb film The Seven Samurai (1954)!

    With a large but magnificent (pardon the expression [​IMG] ) cast and the skilled Mr. Sturges (director of Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) working together on this ambitious project, the movie became not only a classic, fun to watch Western flick, but also ushered in the era of the “buddy movie”. Further, ensuing buddy movies, such as The Great Escape and The Dirty Dozen borrowed heavily from The Magnificent Seven, assembling large ensemble casts of heroes and adapting the formula employed in this film to suit their own particular needs and purposes.

    The really amazing thing, though, is that even today, so many years down the trail, The Magnificent Seven is still such a tremendous joy to watch! Indeed, although the action sequences are a bit dated in comparison to today’s action films, this motion picture has aged very well overall, thanks in large part to memorable quotes throughout the dialogue (the line James Coburn speaks when he criticizes a shot he fired at a bandit riding on horseback is my personal favorite [​IMG] ) and Elmer Bernstein’s music, especially the movie’s superb main theme!

    There are many things I love about this film, not the least of which is how quickly it gets viewers into the action, by introducing the resident contemptible bad guy, a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach), at the very beginning of the film. Shortly thereafter, Calvera and his gang mosey into a small Mexican farming village and help themselves to the residents’ food and property, encountering little resistance as they enjoy the fruits of the villagers’ labor. As it turns out, these thugs have been preying upon these people for quite a while, and by coming armed and with numbers, they have never had much trouble taking what they want. After this latest raid, however, the village elders have decided to make a stand, and are determined to drive Calvera away, but lacking the firepower to do so themselves, they resolve to hire a group of gunfighters to safeguard their village.

    After beginning the search, the villagers encounter Chris Adams (Yul Brynner), the “man in black” who seems an ideal candidate to help them protect their farming community. After hearing of the villagers’ plight, Chris, who is handy with a pistola, agrees to help them turn the tide against Calvera. His plan is to put together a team of mercenaries, most of who accept the assignment for reasons other than the nominal amount of money being offered.

    Running down the list quickly, Adams’ crew consists of: Vin (Steve McQueen), Britt (James Coburn), Bernardo O’Reilly (Charles Bronson), Lee (Robert Vaughn), Harry Luck (Brad Dexter), and Chico (Horst Bucholz), the youngest member of the group who is extremely eager to prove himself worthy of membership. Over the course of the silm’s first half, these enigmatic heroes are introduced, culminating with their arrival at the village they have been recruited to defend. It is there that they not only prepare for battle but also teach the residents how to defend themselves and fortify their town before the inevitable showdown with Calvera’s gang occurs.

    For the remainder of the film, John Sturges switches gears, and recounts the epic struggle the villagers and their band of hired gunslingers wage against Calvera and his men. Simultaneously, in focusing on how the seven gunfighters teach the villagers to defend themselves from the goons, Sturges shows how they come to develop both a strong camaraderie and genuine concern for the future of their employers, who were incapable of taking on their aggressors alone. Granted, Sturges was working with a great story, but his steady hand really made this movie a heck of a lot of fun to watch.

    Of course, John Sturges did have the benefit of a star-studded cast, although most of them were not the huge stars they would later become when the film was being made. For instance, Robert Vaughn was not yet The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Charles Bronson had not yet made Death Wish. Nevertheless, their performances were great across the board, particularly those of Yul Brynner, whose demeanor anchors the film, and Steve McQueen, whose strong screen presence and excellent acting here would foreshadow the memorable roles he would play in classics like The Great Escape!

    The Magnificent Seven is a wonderful film to revisit, for the terrific performances of its ensemble cast, for its quotable dialogue, for its memorable music, for how it helped build the foundations upon which subsequent “buddy” films were based, and for how enjoyable it is to watch! Now it may not be the best Western ever made, or have the best (or most original) story in the genre, but I would put this right up against just about any Western, simply for how much fun the ride is! Happy trails, my friends…


    Junior Bonner:
    Despite being offered in widescreen (2.35:1), Junior Bonner’s image has not anamorphically enhanced by MGM. Without question, this has to be viewed as a big disappointment, especially since the practice is so commonplace now. In my case, it was particularly bothersome, not because Junior Bonner’s visuals look especially “bad”, but because I know they should have looked better.

    Right from the opening of the film, the image exhibits its soft appearance, which is most evident in the somewhat blurry appearance of shots taken from a distance, and the less than impressive amount of detail. This problem is exacerbated by the application of edge enhancement, which results in a halo effect that can be distracting at times. Finally, color rendering is also a bit of a disappointment, as the film’s color palette appears to be faded. On a more positive note, however, excessive grain is not a problem, and the print is free from serious defects or damage.

    Things could be worse, I suppose, but fans of this film will definitely be upset by the lower resolution of this non-anamorphic transfer, not to mention the general flatness of its colors and the application of edge enhancement. In my opinion, this film certainly deserved a better visual treatment than it received.

    The Great Escape:
    The Great Escape DVD in this collection is NOT the wonderful special edition, which should tell you about all you need to know. In a word, especially after having become acquainted with the SE, I can say I was quite disappointed with the image on this “old” DVD. To begin with, while the film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the presentation is non-anamorphic, and the image lacks the sharpness and clarity of the special edition release. Additionally, grain and print damage are a LOT more visible in this version than in the re-tooled special edition.

    Colors were less vibrant on this previous disc as well, and contrast is a tad heavy, so shadow detail is not nearly as pronounced as it is on the newer release. Finally, there is a bit of aliasing evident throughout the feature, particularly when conducting close examinations of the structures in the prison camp, such as the barbed wire fences.

    I suppose it doesn’t look bad for such an old film, but unleashing this laundry list of problems on those who purchase The Steve McQueen Collection, particularly when there is a much nicer looking version of The Great Escape available is upsetting. I think a much better option would have been to include a single disc version of The Great Escape: Special Edition, so that viewers could watch what is arguably the best film in this set without being distracted by this transfer’s deficiencies.

    NOTE: To add insult to injury, the keepcase states 16x9, which indicates the image has been anamorphically enhanced, when it most certainly is not! [​IMG]

    The Thomas Crown Affair:
    Taken on the whole, I have to say that I was very pleased with the 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) transfer for The Thomas Crown Affair. To begin with, colors are well saturated for a motion picture nearly four decades old, and they are rendered quite accurately for the most part, although there are a few instances where the image appeared slightly washed out. In addition, flesh tones seemed to lean a bit towards pink on occasion, but only ever so slightly.

    Fortunately, sharpness and fine detail were above average, allowing the intricacies in Haskell Wexler’s cinematography to make their presence known. Not faring quite as well was shadow detail, which is lightly obscured at times, especially towards the beginning of the film. Unfortunately, edge enhancement (why this is still referred to as “enhancement” is beyond me) is also visible at times, as are relatively minor print flaws. Fortunately, neither these print flaws nor the level of film grain visible ever becomes a real issue, and viewers can focus on what is really important – the film – with only a few minor distractions.

    The Magnificent Seven:
    While The Magnificent Seven looks as good as it ever has on home video, I would balk at calling the image quality great, even though the film is now 45-years-old. The reason for this is that although it sports a high-def transfer, the film does not seem to have undergone a complete restoration, so it still shows its age a bit via minor print damage. That being said, it appears as though some work was done to rid the image of many of the age-related flaws that were so visible on laserdisc (on of the few I’ve seen) or when the film was shown on television. A fair amount of film grain is also visible throughout, particularly whenever optical effects like fades are used, although it too seems to be less prevalent than I remember it being in the past.

    To me, the biggest improvement was in the area of color reproduction, as they appear bolder, brighter, and more realistic than on the laserdisc version. The disc’s black level also remains both deep and stable throughout, so shadow detail is acceptable, although undoubtedly diminished by the media used to capture the story on film and by the passage of time. Overall sharpness and detail is quite good as well, especially in close-ups, giving the image a bit more depth and dimensionality than I would have expected. No, the transfer is nowhere near being on par with most of today’s films in these respects, but it still looks very film-like on the whole.

    Better still, edge enhancement and digital compression artifacts never present a problem! Thus, while it may not be the full-blown overhaul that fans of The Magnificent Seven may have been hoping for, I have to say that the image quality on this “special edition” release of the film left me satisfied for now. Perhaps we’ll get a more thorough cleanup if the film is re-released as a double-dip.


    Junior Bonner:
    Keeping in line with its virtually “no frills” approach to this release, the soundtrack for Junior Bonner is presented in its original monaural format. I cannot say I am disappointed by this, however, as I don’t see how remix would have benefited the source material too much. Basically, this monaural track presents the encoded audio information in a serviceable manner, with moderate hissing serving as the only distraction, and a minor one at that.

    On the whole, the audio presentation is decent, with dialogue coming across as more robust than it normally does on most monaural soundtracks, and dialogue, music, and effects are also well balanced against each other. I must also comment on the fact that the sounds of cattle and horses tramping about also packed an unexpected wallop!

    NOTE: I did find the track’s overall volume level to be rather low, so you may have to dial the volume up on your amplifier or receiver to obtain sufficient dynamic range.

    The Great Escape:
    The soundtrack for this non-special edition of The Great Escape is an effective monaural track that should suit most viewers fine. The reasons for this are that the track can be listened to at a fairly loud volume [​IMG] without any noticeable hissing or distortion, and without becoming overly harsh. Indeed, frequency response is actually quite good, save for all but the highest and lowest octaves in the audible spectrum.

    The real good news is that although the soundstage is much tighter than it is in the 5.1 channel remix available on the Special Edition, Mr. Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score still sounds good overall. On that note, the score also sits quite nicely in the mix, and never overshadows sound effects or dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, characters’ speech is presented intelligibly at all times, so what the characters are saying should be abundantly clear.

    Although I cannot call this presentation impressive, especially when the “Special Edition” of the film contains a nice 5.1 channel Dolby Digital re-mix, it gets the job done. Again, however, I think it was a bad call on MGM’s part not to give those buying this collection the best version of the film available, even if it was repackaged as a single disc, without all of the wonderful extras that the SE contains.

    The Magnificent Seven:
    Having seen this epic film a number of times, I was excited about hearing Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful, musical score in Dolby Digital 5.1 (for some reason I had never picked up the DVD – yes, shame on me!). Well, now that the wait is over, after some careful listening, I have to say that I thought the surround mix was suitable, but not as active and engaging as I hoped it would be.

    The real good news is that Bernstein’s music comes alive a bit more, as it is dispersed around the listening space. Unfortunately, the source elements are over four decades old, so opening them up also serves to reveal the thin, fragile-sounding nature of the score.

    Similarly, dialogue sounds a bit flat, but this is most certainly a product of the movie’s age, not a fault of the audio transfer. In terms of surround usage, there is not much to talk about, as in only a few instances are the rear speakers employed to produce location-specific effects. The subwoofer also sits most of this one out as well.

    On a more positive note, despite the age of the limitations placed upon the 5.1 remix by the age and fidelity of the source material, the soundtrack contains is free of deficiencies like hissing, popping, or distortion.

    The Thomas Crown Affair:
    Like the other films in this collection, The Thomas Crown Affair is a fairly old motion picture. In this case, however, the soundtrack makes it a little more evident than the soundtracks for the other films do. The biggest problems are that fidelity and frequency response are about average, at best, and whenever the volume of the track rises, as in the case of gunshots or vehicles being operated, distortion is both evident and annoying.

    The soundstage is also extremely tight, which should be no surprise given that it is a monaural track, so the score and the song “Windmills of Your Mind” do not seem to have enough room to breathe. Dialogue also has a thin, reedy quality to it as well, although it is not a challenge to understand what the characters are saying at any time – provided you turn up the master volume enough, all though that may cause you to reach for the remote when effects or the score come into play. All in all, it is serviceable I suppose, but don’t expect anything more – you will just be setting yourself up for disappointment.



    Audio Commentary
    For Junior Bonner, the sole extra is a feature-length audio commentary provided by experts Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, and David Weddle (who are moderated by Nick Redman). As they are experts on the work and career of Sam Peckinpah, the three men discuss the film in a very intelligent manner, and provide a mind-boggling amount of insight into the film, Sam Peckinpah, and some of the actors. I will forego my usual practice of listing highlights, because there are simply too many, but take my word for it – this is a really worthwhile commentary, especially if you are a fan of either this film or Sam Peckinpah’s other works.


    Return to the Great Escape
    Running for just over 24 minutes, “Return to the Great Escape” provides some interesting historical background on the real-life events that inspired this classic film. It goes without saying that this featurette is nowhere near as in-depth as the extras on the SE, but the interviews and narration provided should give viewers a good overview of the real-life events that The Great Escape dramatizes.

    The theatrical trailer (3:08) for The Great Escape is included.


    Audio Commentary
    Director Norman Jewison’s audio commentary is rather informative, although I thought he had a tendency to continue talking on a topic to the point of redundancy several times. Despite this, Mr. Jewison does offer a lot of insight into the film, including discussions about the role McQueen and Dunaway played in the success of this film, an analysis of the disparities between the two stars’ acting techniques, breakdowns of some of the stylistic tricks employed in the film, and a variety of anecdotes about the cast and crew.

    All in all, it is not a great commentary, and as I mentioned Mr. Jewison does tend to repeat himself a bit, but there is enough interesting information to make it a worthwhile listen if you are a fan of the film.

    The original theatrical trailer for The Thomas Crown Affair is included.


    Audio Commentary
    For The Magnificent Seven, the feature-length commentary is contributed by Eli Wallach, James Coburn, assistant director Robert Relyea, and producer Walter Mirisch. Though I am not the biggest fan of commentaries, the quartet was a real joy to listen to, as they each have a great many interesting stories to tell. There really are too many highlights for me to list, so let me move on by saying that if you enjoy this movie (and who doesn’t [​IMG] ), you can expect to learn a variety of things about the actors, the process of producing this film, and some of the antics and one-upmanship that went on on-set. Give it a listen…you will not regret it!

    Guns for Hire: The Making of The Magnificent Seven
    In general, DVD “documentaries” tend to be more promotional in nature than truly interesting or informative. Fortunately for fans of this classic, “Guns for Hire” is not your average DVD documentary. Indeed, it runs for forty-seven minutes and features tons of relevant interviews, a treasure trove of insight into the movie’s production, and some fascinating anecdotes from the set.

    As you might expect, all of the principle players still living when the documentary was created are on hand. In other cases, vintage interview footage is used, or their relatives or close friends are included, but interesting people like director John Carpenter also make appearances, to discuss what made The Magnificent Seven so special a film, comment on its place in history, and offer up amusing anecdotes, including one that describes the jockeying for position that took place between Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen.

    All in all, it is a great documentary, which manages to entertain as well as inform. If you care anything about The Magnificent Seven, give it a look!

    Photo Galleries
    The galleries, which are organized into categories such as “Behind the Scenes”, “Off The Set”, and “Classic Production Art”, offer fans over 150 images and posters, some of them in color. There are some really good shots of all of the stars, and some interesting posters as well, so be sure to give the galleries a once-over.

    Two theatrical trailers for The Magnificent Seven are included.


    (on a five-point scale)
    Films: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Although the “Steve McQueen Collection” features some great films, especially The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, I am hard pressed to recommend purchasing this collection, as opposed to going out and picking up the films in the set individually. The reason for this is that arguably the crown jewel of the set, The Great Escape, is NOT the outstanding special edition version that includes a spiffy 16x9 enhanced transfer and a second disc of bonus features. The decision to take this route, and re-release this crummy non-anamorphic transfer when a better on is available is likely to upset a few people, and it definitely has me scratching my head.

    I suppose if these films are still missing from your library, and you can score a good deal on the set, it would be worth picking up, if only to get your hands on The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. For others, I would have to suggest taking a pass, and purchasing the titles you really want separately. It may cost more, but that way you are sure to end up with the Special Edition of The Great Escape. Too bad it is not already in the box…that would have made this set very tough to pass up indeed.

    Stay tuned…
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    I don't get MGM! Last year, they release an anamorphic SE of "The Great Escape", but they don't include it in this boxset. And I believe "The Thomas Crown Affair" released 5 or so years ago was non-anamorphic while this release is which is a good thing. I need to check my old dvd to make sure of the non-anamorphic question. However, MGM continues to screw up "Junior Bonner" with a non-anamorphic presentation. Anyway, thanks for the review.
  3. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

    Apr 14, 2003
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    Bolton, Lancashire
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    Yes it was non-anamorphic, and the new one boasts a much better transfer (but lacks the 8-page booklet if you're into that kind of thing.)

    That's a very nice review Jason and I agree completely about Junior Bonner; a wonderful film.
  4. BrianP

    BrianP Supporting Actor

    Dec 8, 1999
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    I'll pass on this one and get the new Warner release next week. I already have the 2 disc version of the Great Escape and the Magnificent Seven. I would like to get the other films but will avoid Junior Bonner since it is not anamorphic.
  5. Bradley-E

    Bradley-E Screenwriter

    Nov 11, 2003
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    I cannot believe MGM released this box WITHOUT the se of THE GREAT ESCAPE. Why bother, unless they are trying to unload stock of the crappy single disc. My suggestion is to wait for the Warner (McQueen) Box set. It will be great.
  6. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist

    Feb 8, 1999
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    Robert Harris
    M-G-M shouldn't have bothered.

    A total waste of time and effort.

    Are they in any way aware that there are other entities out there releasing DVDs?

  7. Russell G

    Russell G Fake Shemp

    Sep 20, 2002
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    I'm glad I skipped this despite the cheap price. My main reason to get this was to get the Great Escape, and I was shocked to see that the SE wasn't included. Maybe MGM dumped it knowing that the Sony buy out was in the wings.

    I too will save my money for the Warner set, as well as Warners James Dean set that is out the same day.
  8. rich_d

    rich_d Cinematographer

    Oct 21, 2001
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    Thanks for the review. I was curious about the boxset knowing that I'd have sell my version of The Great Escape.

    Now, no sale means no problem. [​IMG]
  9. Steve K.H.

    Steve K.H. Supporting Actor

    Jan 11, 2002
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    Excellent Review!

    Curious Marketing Strategy.

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