"Return of the Seven" (or "Return of the Magnificent Seven," as it's being marketed now) should have been called "Rerun of the Seven." Structurally, the 1966 sequel is an almost-exact replica of the 1960 classic Western from John Sturges--only the basic premise is more far-fetched.
It's not a bad Western any way you cross the Pecos, but dagnabit, we've seen it all before. Chris (Yul Brynner), the professional gunfighter with a soft spot for the bullied, gets word that one of the original seven, Chico (played this time by Julián Mateos), is in trouble, his village once again plagued by a large force of Mexican bandits. So, as in the original film, Chris starts recruiting gunmen to go with him to fight the superior force and help the peasants. It starts with a buddy named Vin (Robert Fuller, "Laramie," "Wagon Train") whom he runs into at a bullfight south of the border.
In the world of duplication, what's effective originally is usually a glaring annoyance the second time around. When Chris was asked in the first film how many men he had and he held up one finger, Steve McQueen's character held up two . . . and it was cool. But to see that all over again, and then have him repeat the finger thing with his next recruit just ruins it. Recruited this time is an American womanizer and quick-draw named Colbee (Warren Oates), a sullen gunman (Claude Akins) with a closely guarded past and a personal reason joining them, a death-row Mexican bandit named Luis (Virgilio Teixeira), and, as in the original film, a young Mexican who isn't much of a fighter but who really wants to go along anyway (Jordan Christopher as Manuel). So they ride off, and as you count horses and riders against the horizon and wonder, quizzically, Six? Where's the seventh?, apparently Chris was counting on Chico as one of the group.
But here's the far-fetched part: This time, instead of the bandits doing what bandits do best—raping, pillaging, and plundering--they ride past the entire village full of women all doing laundry at the same time (when the title sequence showed them all doing different activities) into the village, where they round up and herd off the men. Why? Who knows. But someone keeps asking that question every 20 minutes or so, but even that isn't much of a mystery. In the history of the world, when women are kidnapped it's usually for one reason, and when men are taken, it's usually another: slave labor.
The original structure repeats the initial, audacious encounter that Chris and his five or six pals has with the bad guys, forcing them to retreat, then the bad guys getting in control of the situation again, and finally the resolution, where some but not all of the seven are killed. If that sounds like a spoiler revealed, it's not much of one, because anyone who's watched "The Magnificent Seven" will see so many plot similarities that they'll know what's going to happen next.
This time Mexican actors (Emilio Fernández and Rudolfo Acosta) play the bandit leaders, but that's about the biggest difference. I won't spoil things by going into detail about why the men were taken, but suffice it to say that I still found it a stretch of the imagination. That's one reason why, if you never saw the original, you'd think this a good but nowhere-near-great Western. But if you've seen the original, it's major déjà vu.
"Return of the Seven" had considerable film grain, especially on long shots, and since grain translates into noise when it's digitalized, there had to have been some DNR applied here, or things would have looked chaotic. But purists can rest assured that as with "The Magnificent Seven," which was also released on single-disc Blu-ray, the DNR is kept to a minimum. There's still a layer of grain and very subtle noise on some negative spaces, but for the most part the film looks probably as it did in theaters. It's an improvement over the DVD version previously released. "Return of the Seven" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and comes to a 50GB Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 codec that presents no problems. But there doesn't appear to have been a frame-by-frame restoration, because you can still see occasional flecks and flaws from the original source elements. As for the colors and black levels, they vary from scene to scene. Some scenes look as if they could have used stronger blacks or more fully saturated colors. Overall, though, it's a decent picture.
Elmer Bernstein's score is back again, though only piecemeal, so there isn't the same rousing effect. But the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio is strong enough, with the rear speakers slightly more engaged than they were in "The Magnificent Seven." Still, the timbre feels slightly flat or limp.
No bonus features for this sequel.
"Return of the Magnificent Seven" is so closely patterned after the original that you have to wonder why it took the studio six years to bring it to theaters.