I was just thinking the other day that it will soon be close to a year since I got my hands on Sony’s superlative set of Boetticher/Scott westerns. Those movies were at the very top of my most wanted list for so long, and it still gives me great pleasure to know that I can now pick them off my shelves and enjoy them any time I please. With that thought in mind, I decided to give Seven Men from Now (1956) another view. This film is of course not officially part of the Ranown group of titles, but it was the first to bring together Scott, Boetticher and Kennedy – so it is the movie that kicked off that cycle and it’s also the template for what was to follow.
As soon as the title credits have rolled the film immediately kicks into gear. Out of the darkness, and a violent storm, comes the lone figure of a man making his way towards the shelter of a nearby cave. It’s already occupied by two vaguely uneasy men, but they still offer the stranger a cup of coffee and a seat by the fire. A stilted conversation follows, but when a killing in the town of Silver Springs is brought up something snaps. The camera cuts away, gunfire is heard, and only one man will ride off. That man is Ben Stride (Randolph Scott), former sheriff of the aforementioned town and now a driven manhunter. Seven men robbed the Wells Fargo office in Silver Springs, killing Stride’s wife in the process. Now only five are left alive, and Stride spends the remainder of the movie blazing a trail across Arizona in his quest for vengeance. Along the way he runs into a couple of easterners, headed for California and a new life. The couple are Annie Greer (Gail Russell) and her less than capable husband John (Walter Reed). Stride’s inherent decency means that he can’t abandon these two greenhorns to their fate in hostile country, so he rides with them part of the way. By the time they reach a deserted relay station, the last important figure is introduced. This is Masters (Lee Marvin), an man of dubious character who Stride has had occasion to lock up in the past. However, Masters appears to bear him no ill will and makes it clear that his only interest is in finding the gold that was stolen from Silver Springs. When this oddly matched group sets out again the tensions begin to rise, and it seems only a matter of time before Stride and Masters will square off.
As I said in my introduction, Seven Men from Now was the seed from which the Ranown westerns were to grow. Just about every character, theme and situation would be revisited and honed to near perfection over the course of the next four years. Scott is the classical loner, haunted by the demons of his past and desperate to make up for the character flaws and inadequacies that brought him to his present state. He can be hard and ruthless when the circumstances demand but still retains a sensitivity to those who are dependent on him. Gail Russell was given a shot at a comeback with the reasonably meaty role of a woman who married a weak and ineffectual man but will stick by him for all that. Miss Russell’s story was a tragic one; were it not for a combination of insecurity and alcoholism she might have achieved much more than her appallingly short life permitted. Nevertheless, she plays her part perfectly here and it’s almost as if she was able to channel all the dissatisfaction with her own life into Annie Greer. It has to be said that Walter Reed is pretty colourless as the husband, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re looking to play a weak willed and essentially passive character. Lee Marvin, on the other hand, is all swaggering bravado and insidious charm. His nonchalant, sneering dandy with the long, green scarf and twin pistols is the perfect counterbalance to Scott’s underplaying. I’d say he actually steals the picture as he dominates every scene he’s in – the real standouts being his taunting provocation of Scott, Reed and Russell in the confines of a storm battered wagon, and the final one on one duel amid the barren rocks of Lone Pine.
Boetticher and Kennedy revisited this premise again and again in their movies: the small isolated group comprised of the obsessive avenger, the strong yet vulnerable woman, the expendable sidekicks and the villain that you half admire. Anyone familiar with Kennedy’s scripts will easily recognise the recurring dialogue, but the beauty of it is that it’s such iconic stuff it never actually sounds cliched. Boetticher’s direction here is first rate, making the most of the familiar Lone Pine locations – the bulk of the action in Seven Men from Now takes place outdoors and that’s a real blessing in any of his movies. There’s the usual mix of telling close-ups interspersed with glorious wide shots. The climax among the labyrinthine boulders creates a great sense of claustrophobia and allows for some marvellously framed images.
Paramount did western fans a real favour when they put Seven Men from Now out on a DVD a few years back. The R1 disc (I’m going to assume the R2 replicates it) is an excellent anamorphic transfer that I couldn’t fault. In addition to the main feature, there’s a boatload of great extras with the commentary track by Jim Kitses and the documentary Budd Boetticher – An American Original being especially worthy of mention. Seven Men from Now stands as a first class western on its own, but what makes it even more special is the knowledge that Boetticher, Scott and Kennedy would go on to produce still classier material in a very short space of time. If you haven’t seen this film then you really owe it to yourself to put that situation right as soon as possible – I can’t recommend it highly enough.
16 thoughts on “Seven Men from Now”
Great western. I didn’t really know Gail Russell before this film and thought she was very impressive. The scene in the wagon where Marvin goads Scott is so well directed and acted. And of course that finale where Marvin’s utter surprise is shown as Scott outguns him. We don’t even see Scott drawing his gun.
I think the ending was actually shot that way to disguise the fact that Scott wasn’t really very fast on the draw. Whatever, as you say, it works perfectly.
The wagon scene, is close to perfection – fantastic work from all concerned. Marvin dominates of course but there is so much going on with all the characters just below the surface.
Almost each sequence of this outstanding western is an object lesson in picture making. I’m absolutely nuts about “Seven Men from Now”. So much that I wrote about 200 pages on it – in French,of course (am I the only ‘frog’ to pay visits on this website?). Unfortunately I would not be able to do the same in your language (too bad for me). Anyway… apart from the Boetticher-Kennedy movies (this one + “The Tall T”, “Ride Lonesome” and “Comanche Station”), the other westerns I treasure most are the five Mann-Stewart – “The Far Country” being, like you Colin, the one I’d rate a little below the other ones. The wagon scene in “Seven Men” sure is pure delight but I enjoy particularly the way it actually comes to a close, when R. Scott goes to bed under the wagon surrounded by mud and falling raindrops while a brief conversation takes place between beautiful Gail Russell and him before both blow out their lights, as if to hush the budding love you can feel through their eyes, voices, delicate gestures. One of the most touching love scenes that ever graced the screen, in my opinion (possibly inspired by a similar scene in R. Walsh’s “Silver River”?). There is so much to enjoy about this movie which is an absolute classic.
I would say that’s beautifully put Samuel; if only I could express myself so eloquently in French! You mention writing about this film, has it been published anywhere? Is there a translation?
I certainly receive other hits from France but the language aspect may deter visitors from leaving comments. Of course, judging from the number of classic western DVDs released in your country, there must clearly remain a strong appreciation of the genre there.
When it comes to Boetticher, and Mann too, I think it’s safe to say that once one has discovered their work there’s no going back. All of the best work of these men is packed with scenes (such as the wagon scene in this one) that are loaded, charged with significance. Boetticher and Scott, like Mann and Stewart, drew something powerful from each other, and their collaborations amount to the very best the western has to offer.
“……….while a brief conversation takes place between beautiful Gail Russell and him before both blow out their lights, as if to hush the budding love you can feel through their eyes, voices, delicate gestures.”
It was wonderful how Boetticher framed this scene and re-set the mood just after Scott had a stressful physical confrontation with Marvin and subsequently ordering him to leave the camp. Henceforth, Scott bedded down under the wagon, all the while not knowing if Marvin was actually going to leave. Just moments later, Russell begins the conversation, Scott hears the horses of Marvin and his partner leaving the camp. Upon realizing this, Scott’s simple twitch of an eyebrow and a sense of relief that came upon him was telling. It set the mood and tone to carry on such a romantic scene.
For me, hearing the protagonist’s horses leaving and that simple twitch of an eyebrow was a wonderful bit of direction by Boetticher.
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No, Colin, it’s never been published. A few books I wrote have been, yes, but they have nothing to do with cinema. Their subject is jazz music. According to Clint Eastwood, American people have invented two art forms : Western and Jazz. I love both. Difficult not to agree with Clint. By the way, the name I use to leave comments here happens to be a pseudonym. And yes, you’re right, many classic westerns are released or re-released in France. For instance, among others, this very month : Raoul Walsh’s “Colorado Territory” – as well as Boetticher’s noir/gangster movie : “The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamonds”, and soon to be released (late november) : Robert Parrish”s “The Wonderful Country”, an almost forgotten gem. Long awaited, Edgar G. Ulmer’s “The Naked Dawn” should be released next year. Unexplainably, Howard Hawk’s masterpiece, “Red River” has never made it on dvd in France. Yet, most of the french critics put him on the same level as Ford, whose films are available in France, with no exception. The copy of “Red River” I own has been made in…Korea. Fortunately there are english subtitles (very useful if I want to dig what Walter Brennan says). korean language remains quite unknown to me. And I guess I’m not the only one among the western fans.
Some very good ones to look forward to there Samuel, especially Colorado Territory and The Wonderful Country, both of which I’ve written pieces on here as it happens. That’s quite odd about Red River though as I know that Hawks is held in high regard by French critics.
French critic André Bazin had praised “Seven Men from Now” as early as september 1957, stating : “Voilà bien en effet le western le plus intelligent que je connaisse mais aussi le moins intellectuel, le plus raffiné et le moins esthète, le plus simple et le plus beau.”, which must be quite easy to understand, I guess. As far as I can remember, Jim Kitses quotes – translated into English – this sentence in his commentary to be found as a special feature on the Warner Bros dvd.
Oh yes, the meaning is clear enough – even to someone with rusty schoolboy French such as myself. 🙂
And it has to be said he summed up the attractions of the movie very well.
I consider 7 Men From Now to be one of the best western movies ever made. The final scene with shootout against Lee Marvin is the best final scene of any western – period. I do hope that Randolph Scott’s FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS is found in a good color copy. That is another great Scott western that must be seen in color.
Hello Tom. I agree the movie is certainly up there among the very best the genre has to offer, with the cast and crew all at the top of their game.
Fighting Man of the Plains is due to get a DVD release in the UK this coming July. I’m keen to see how it will be presented.
How did I miss this one on my first run thru your reviews. It has to be in Scott’s top two or three films.It works on every level.
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When you look back on these movies Scott made with Boetticher one of the things that stands out for me is the way the director had this clear vision of the kind of role he wanted his star to play right from the beginning.
Just watched this again. In a word magnificent. A Blu would be sweet but the DVD still holds up with an HDTV and upconverter. The story of Gail Russell on the disc was tragic and moving. This was a tremendous DVD of a great, great movie. I think I could watch the Boetticher-Scott films on a loop.
Yes, that DVD, as is the case with many Paramount films, is a good one. Sure it would be nice to see it in HD but I agree that there’s nothing really wrong with what we have as it stands.
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