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With: Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Gail Russell, Walter Reed, John Larch, Donald 'Red' Barry
Written by: Burt Kennedy
Directed by: Budd Boetticher
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 78
Date: 08/04/1956

Seven Men from Now (1956)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Snake Oiled

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Budd Boetticher's Seven Men from Now has long been considered a mere B-Western,especially due to the presence of its laconic star, Randolph Scott. But now,thanks to a beautiful restoration by UCLA last fall, we can view Seven Men fromNow as it deserves to be viewed, as one of the greatest Westerns -- possibly oneof the greatest films -- ever made.

Seven Men from Now marked the first of seven films Boetticher and Scott made together. It was filmed from Burt Kennedy's script, the first of five scripts Kennedy would write for the series. And it was produced by John Wayne's company Batjac. That's a pretty unbeatable team. Throw in Lee Marvin as the bad guy in Seven Men from Now, and you can pretty much forget about all the noble Shanes and High Noons and get down to business.

The first ten minutes of the film are unforgettable. After the credits have finished rolling over a dark, rainy, deserted stretch of wild country, Scott strides through the frame on foot. He enters a small rocky shelter, already occupied by two men. They drink coffee. They talk. The subject of their talk turns to a killing that happened in Silver Springs. One of the men asks, "they ever catch them fellas who done it?" Scott answers, "two of them." Gunshots. The next scene begins and Scott is no longer on foot, but has two horses with him.

That's two down. Five men from now, Scott will have accomplished his goal.

We eventually learn that Scott (as the aptly named Ben Stride) is on the trail of the men who killed his wife. His wife was working at the station because he was too proud to take a lesser job as deputy after losing his position as sheriff. This information comes mostly from other characters, as Stride will only talk when it's completely necessary or very important. Stride also rescues a man and his wife bound for California with all their worldly possessions on a rickety wagon. Unfortunately for Scott, the killers got away with a trunk full of gold, and it's still out there, somewhere. Lee Marvin (in a brilliantly snaky performance) and his sidekicks decide to ride along with Scott, in the hopes that he'll lead them to the gold.

Seven Men from Now separates itself from ordinary westerns with its deliberate shading of good and evil. The so-called bad guys in this film don't wear black and twirl their mustaches, and the hero does not perform only selfless duties. These characters spend time together. They're cut from the same cloth. As Jean Renoir said in The Rules of the Game (1939), "everyone has his reasons." Few films demonstrate this sentiment like Seven Men from Now and the other Boetticher-Scott films.

Though Scott had already broken new ground within the Western genre at the beginning of the 1950s with director Andre de Toth, making new "adult" Westerns, Boetticher took it a step further by blurring not only the boundaries between good and evil, but among all the conventions of the genre. During the final scene, when it comes down to three men, Marvin shoots his own sidekick to even the odds. In the final scene, we don't even get to see Scott draw. The camera stays on Marvin, who is too slow to draw his own guns, even though he's been practicing throughout the course of the film.

Another factor that worked in the film's favor was that Scott was a closeted homosexual. In appearing to be pining for his dead wife (whom we never see), he can logically resist the advances of the female lead. His confused sadness contributed to the distance of the character's psyche. Each film takes the opportunity to discuss the nature of men, how much of a man one is, and how little of a man one is when saddled with a woman.

Thanks to Kennedy's brilliant screenplays, Boetticher was also able to streamline these pictures, bringing them in at around 75 minutes each without a wasted or lost moment in each. Little miracles.

I was able to see Seven Men from Now (along with the great Bullfighter and the Lady) at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive with the director himself, 84 years old and still kicking. He spoke for such a long time after the screening that I had to sneak out to catch the last, midnight train back to San Francisco. He was still talking when I left. He's a real treasure. He'd still be making films today, but finds it impossible to work within today's Hollywood system. What a crime.

DVD Details: Paramount's long-awaited DVD was worth the wait. It comes with a commentary track by Western scholar Jim Kitses (who teaches at San Francisco State University), a multi-part, 51-minute documentary on Budd Boetticher (including interviews with Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Towne, Taylor Hackford and others), a featurette on the lovely and rugged Gail Russell and other goodies.

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