Monday, April 8, 2013

Another Look: SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Randolph Scott - 1956)

Kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I finally got around to watching this classic Western for the first time only a few nights ago. I'd been hearing about it and meaning to check it out for years, but somehow never got around to it. Then I reached that strange point that sometimes happens with me where—after hearing so much hype and praise—I become reluctant to take a look for myself because nothing can be that good and I'll just come away disappointed.
Well, that surely wasn't the case this time. I won't say it was worth the wait because now I could kick myself for not getting around to it a lot sooner. But it did not disappoint.

This was the first collaboration between star Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher, with a script by Burt Kennedy. Scott-Boetticher would go on to make a total of seven films together before the close of the decade, five of them scripted by Kennedy. They represent some of the leanest, toughest, finest Westerns to be found.
The best of the lot, in my humble opinion, was RIDE LONESOME. But SEVEN MEN FROM NOW comes in a close second, and makes for one helluva fine kick-off.
This film was the first produced under the banner of John Wayne's Batjac Productions (growing out of Wayne-Fellows) and was originally slated for Duke to star in. Wayne would often comment in later years how much he regretted not getting the chance to be in it. But, at the time, a scheduling conflict with a little thing called THE SEARCHERS got in the way and Duke had to call on his old pal to fill in. As a straight-up trade, however, I don't think anybody would consider the role of Ben Stride in SEVEN MEN for Ethan Edwards in THE SEARCHERS a bad deal. And, in the final analysis, Scott makes Stride all his own and it is one of the gems of his career.

The plot of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is your basic trackdown/revenge Western, but with some nifty twists and plenty of sub-layering and character depth. Stride is the former marshal of Silver Springs who, after losing the last election, was too proud to take a deputy's job. To make ends meet financially, his wife went to work at the local Wells Fargo freight office and was there the day seven men robbed the place and killed her in the process. Haunted by her death and driven by feeling guilty over her having to take a job because he was too proud to work at what was available for him, Stride goes after them.
The gang has split up with plans to re-group in the town of Flora Vista. One by one, Stride tracks them down, cutting down three of the seven before they have the chance to re-assemble. And then he begins to close in on the rest.

Stoic, determined, unyielding—Scott has never been better.
Lee Marvin, playing a dangerous lowlife who wasn't part of the original robber gang but is nevertheless out to get his hands on the gold they stole, chews up the scenery like an out-of-control bulldozer and gives a memorable portrayal somewhere between Liberty Valance and Tully Crow (from THE COMMANCHEROS).
Sultry-eyed Gail Russell (at the time near the end of her career and her life, ravaged by the drugs and alcohol she turned to in order to try and overcome near-crippling stage fright) nevertheless delivers a smoldering performance as the wife of a hapless, inept man struggling to make it to California so the couple can start a new life there. Since Flora Vista is one of their intended stops on the way, Stride ends up traveling with them for a ways and an undercurrent of attraction between him and Russell's character quickly develops.

I could go on and on, but hopefully you've got the idea by now.
If you haven't seen this fine film in a while, you'll for sure want to have another look.
If, like me, you for some reason have never viewed it—don't waste any more time!
Highly recommended as a top-notch Western and a worthwhile film in any genre.


Charles R. Rutledge said...

My take was pretty much the same as yours. I watched this film for the first time not long ago and was just blown away by it. I immediately called my dad and told him I was loaning him the DVD and he needed to sit right down and watch it. He was just as impressed as I was. In fact he still has my DVD dogone it...

Peter Brandvold said...

I love this one. The grittiness and rawness of the Boetticher movies is eerily complemented by the clarity and formality of the compositions.

(Holy shit--did Mean Pete just say that?!)

I think my favorite, though, is RIDE LONESOME. I love Karen Steele in it. Those profile shots, especially...

Mean Pete