Thursday, May 09, 2013

Seven Men from Now (1956)

B movies are the low budget films produced by the major studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood that were usually less than 80 minutes in length and were often paired with other films to screen as part of a double feature.  Although these films featured talent with recognizable names in front of and behind the camera, the featured players were usually young stars on the rise or older stars who were fading from the limelight. 

For most people, B movies - let alone B westerns - do not come to mind when they reflect upon the great works of American cinema.  I have to admit that many of my favorite films are considered B movies and that I consider several B westerns as true cinematic works of art.

Seven Men From Now is one such B western.  The film was directed by Budd Boetticher - a maverick figure whose life could have come straight out of a B movie plot.  Boetticher played football at Ohio State and moved to Mexico after college in order to become a bullfighter.  He became a great matador and his expertise in bullfighting led him to Hollywood where he became an advisor on the film Blood and Sand in 1941.  Boetticher worked his way up to the position of journeyman director in Hollywood and made dozens of films that are not very well known.  The director's life took several strange turns including a tumultuous marriage to star Debra Paget and a brief stint in a Mexican mental institution.

In the late fifties, Boetticher teamed up with actor Randolph Scott and producer Harry Joe Brown on seven B westerns that have become very well regarded among film historians and cinephiles.  Seven Men from Now was the first of the these films and it featured the largest budget of the series thanks to the involvement of executive producer John Wayne and his Batjac production company. 

Randolph Scott starred in the film as a former sheriff name Ben Stride who is seeking revenge upon the seven men responsible for the murder of his wife during a Wells Fargo robbery.  Gail Russell co-stars as Scott’s love interest and the great Lee Marvin appears in the film as an adversary to Scott in tracking down the seven men.

Randolph Scott in a still from Seven Men from Now

Although this premise sounds like the shopworn plot of countless western genre films,  the film reveals this to be a deceptively simple premise.  The audience learns that Stride had lost his job as sheriff and his wife was working for Wells Fargo to support him at the time of her death.  Russell’s character is married and begins making romantic advances toward Stride as he voluntarily escorts her and her fragile husband through a particularly dangerous stretch of Apache country.  Of course,  Lee Marvin is simply Lee Marvin - an actor with immense charm as well as a sinister edge in every single performance in which he has been captured on film.

These are complicated characters for a western from the 1950’s.  In fact, it becomes difficult to determine whether any of the characters in the film conduct themselves in a moral fashion - they all have dark secrets that are slowly revealed over the course of the film.

However, it is the style of the film that truly sets it apart from most westerns.  Action is more important in the film than dialog - though Lee Marvin has a fantastic monlogue that sets all of the other character's blood to boil in the middle of a rainstorm.  The film's tense opening features Randolph Scott taking shelter from a thunderstorm under a rock overhang with two other men and within a few words it is becomes very apparent that these two men will figure in his quest for vengeance.

The editing of the film is also fantastic.  There are several shootouts in the film and although we see Randolph Scott draw his six shooter on numerous occasions, the film always cuts away before he fires his gun.  Boetticher leaves his audience to decide whether this editing choice is a comment on the speed of Ben Stride with his pistol or a sly comment on the moral turpitude of Stride's quest for vengeance.

John Wayne's involvement with the film as the executive produces led Seven Men from Now to become entangled in his estate long after his death.  The film was never screened on television and only became available on home video in 2005.  For fans of the western genre, Seven Men from Now is definitely worth a viewing.


Anonymous said...

Brandon is a good writer. I always enjoy his reviews.

Tressa said...

I agree. We're lucky to have him at BPL and writing for our blog.

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