Seven Men from Now (1956)

Film Title: Seven Men from Nowseven-men-from-now-1956

Year: 1956

Studio: Warner Brothers

Silent or Talkie: Talkie

Genre: Western

Starring:

  • Randolph Scott
  • Gail Russell
  • Lee Marvin

Review

Writer (and later director) Burt Kennedy, a highly decorated WWII veteran, had been making a living writing scripts for radio since his discharge from the service. Finally he was hired to write thirteen scripts for a proposed television series, Juan and Diablo, to be produced by John Wayne’s Batjac production company. The series never materialized, but Kennedy was kept on the payroll to write Western scripts for John Wayne. His first screenplay was Seven Men from Now. Wayne, however, opted to do John Ford’s The Searchers instead, and recommended his friend Randolph Scott to star. Scott was already firmly established as a Western star with dozens of Westerns to his credit starting with The Last of the Mohicans in 1936. Scott asked for Budd Boetticher to direct. In 1951, Boetticher had directed The Bullfighter and the Lady for Batjac, but had most recently been toiling as a journeyman director on a string of low-budget Westerns for Monogram and Columbia. Wayne approved the assignment, and so began a partnership between Scott, Boetticher, and Kennedy, resulting in six films that, although not lauded at the time of their release, are now considered to be classics of the genre. And they, and Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (1962), would firmly establish Randolph Scott as not just a star of Westerns, but as an iconic figure.

Seven Men from Now opens with Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) on foot approaching a campfire off in the distance during a rainstorm in the desert. Two men are sitting around the fire drinking coffee. They reluctantly invite Stride to join them. But something is wrong. The men are too nervous. The conversation turns to the recent robbery of a Wells Fargo station in Silver Springs in which a woman was killed. It turns out that Stride is from there. It turns out as well that, although he is no longer Sheriff of Silver Springs, he’s after the seven men who did the job. In an instant one of the men pulls a gun on Stride and just as quickly the two men are dead. Two down, five to go. The next day, Stride comes across a couple with their covered wagon mired in the mud. The couple is John Greer (Walter Reed) and his wife Annie (Gail Russell). They are from Kansas City and are headed for California. Stride helps the Greers extricate their wagon and horses from the mud and agrees to accompany them for a ways as he’s headed in the same direction. At a deserted way station, the threesome meets up with Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clete (Donald Barry). They are after the robbers as well, hoping to separate them from the cash box they took containing $20,000 in gold. Masters and Stride have met before; in fact Stride has locked Masters up twice in Silver Springs for petty crimes. Masters assures Stride that although he’s broken the law in the past, he’d never commit murder. Stride: “I hope not. I’d hate to have to kill you.” Masters: “I’d hate to have you try.” Nevertheless, Masters and Clete decide to tag along with Stride and the Greers. That night over dinner, the Greers learn from Masters that the woman killed during the robbery was Stride’s wife. Later, to Annie, Stride confesses that he feels responsible for her death. It seems that after Stride was not reelected Sheriff, he had a tough time finding other work, and his wife was forced to take the job at Wells Fargo. A growing attraction is evident between Annie and Stride. But Masters has his eyes on her as well. Masters: “A man could grow really fond of a woman like that.” Clete: “It looks like one already has.” The next night, seeking shelter from the rain inside the Greers’ wagon with Stride and the Greers, Masters comes on even stronger. Masters tells Annie, “When you move it’s like you’re all over alive.” When he asks Greer how he ended up with such a beauty as Annie, Annie defiantly tells him, “We fell in love!” Masters replies, “Love. That’s a mighty fancy word. That’s the trouble with the likes of you and me Sheriff. We never take time out for the fancy things in life. We leave that to the fellas that run sort of . . . gentle, soft.” Masters is plainly after Annie. Stride and Annie share a mutual attraction. Stride is after the robbers for vengeance. Masters and Clete are after the robbers for their gold. And John Greer seems to be kind of nervous about something.

It’s easy to see why Seven Men from Now was not recognized as more than just a good Western at the time of its initial release. It was commercially successful, and critics gave it good notices. But it was just one Western out of many that were filling America’s movie screens. And the genre had made the leap to television as well, with dozens of programs competing for the viewer’s small screen attention. Boetticher was not well-known and Randolph Scott was just another cowboy star. It wasn’t until the genre was practically extinct in the late 1970’s (except for the occasional Clint Eastwood Western) that film historians and movie fans began to discover that there had been more to the genre than just shoot-em-ups and cattle rustlers. Seven Men from Now uses the genre as a morality tale as did Ford with The Searchers released the same year. Scott’s character is searching for vengeance, but redemption as well. Even the character’s name, Stride, serves as a metaphor for his physical and emotional journey.

Seven Men from Now is just mighty fine entertainment as well. Boetticher uses his location well. Filmed in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California, the area had seen movie business there since the silent era. Its relative proximity to Los Angeles, just a couple hundred miles north, made it an ideal location. But Boetticher made it his own somehow as John Ford had done with Monument Valley years earlier. The landscape is almost another character in the film, harsh, unforgiving, but sheltering as well. Randolph Scott’s performance is dead on perfect; it’s impossible to imagine John Wayne in the role. In his films with Boetticher, the screenwriter Robert Towne describes Scott’s characters as possessing “an easy insistence about doing the right thing,” and that sums it up perfectly. Gail Russell, making a screen comeback after a five-year absence, is lovely but with a veneer of disappointment with life. She’s agreed to accompany her husband to California, because what other options does she have? When she meets Scott we see her light up in a way as if to say, “Oh, there’s this kind of man too. I didn’t know.” Lee Marvin pretty near steals the show. The character is incredibly well-written and delivers a new kind of villain to the Western: clearly a bad guy, but you sort of like him too. Marvin’s performance is so much fun to watch you almost hope he gets, if not the girl, at least the gold.

On Video

This Special Edition DVD released by Paramount Home Entertainment delivers a fine 16:9 widescreen color image. The color is sharp and vivid and there are no visible signs of wear in the transfer. The sound is fine too. There are several extras included on the disc as well.
– Commentary by Jim Kitses, film historian and author of Directing the Western: From John Ford to Clint Eastwood.
– Bud Boetticher: An American Original (50 minutes). This is a fine documentary overview of Boetticher’s career with an emphasis on Seven Men from Now. Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Bogdanovich, and Robert Towne are among those who comment on Boetticher’s life and work.
– The John Wayne Stock Company: Gail Russell (13 minutes) A short documentary on the brief, unhappy life of Gail Russell.
– Lone Pine (6 ½ minutes) Documentary about the location of Seven Men from Now and other Boetticher films
– Theatrical Trailer
– Photo Gallery

Conclusion

This is one of the classic Western films. If you’re a Westerns fan, you probably don’t need convincing. A beautifully shot, written and acted film, it’s worth at least a rental for the curious. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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