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Seven Men from Now

Seven Men from Now(1956)

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Seven Men from Now has come out of nowhere to become the first of the seven Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns on DVD. The movie was out of circulation for decades and its gorgeous 2001 restoration never actually had a theatrical reissue, so you were lucky if you'd seen this movie before it came out on disc. Sony had years of opportunity to get the five westerns Boetticher and Scott subsequently made for Columbia on DVD, including such classics as The Tall T and Ride Lonesome, but Paramount beat them to the punch.

Seven Men from Now was the first collaboration for Boetticher, who'd knocked around with only middling success, and Scott, who, in his middle age, had settled into being a prolific star of low-budget westerns. Seven Men from Now and its follow-ups average only 75 minutes in length, and were made on tight shooting schedules. Some of them filmed for only 12 days with compact casts, often recycling locations like California's Lone Pine. But Hollywood's need to outdo television gave these westerns a little boost in budget and production values. They were made in widescreen and in color, two qualities TV couldn't yet match. With cinematographers like Seven Men from Now's William H. Clothier behind the camera, these low-budget genre pictures are as beautiful and visually dramatic as any A-movie.

The tight rein on resources carries over to their screenplays, usually written by Burt Kennedy. In Kennedy's Seven Men from Now script, the quest of Ben Stride (Scott) to avenge his wife's death during a robbery pits him against a crafty villain, Masters (Lee Marvin). Masters isn't one of the murderers, just an opportunist hoping to nab a lockbox of stolen gold as Stride pursues Payte Bodeen (John Larch), the leader of the gang of robbers. Scott characters seek similar vengeance for wronged women in Decision at Sundown, Comanche Station and Ride Lonesome, and tangle with another Masters-like opportunistic interloper in the last of those. Mostly, though, Scott characters find themselves locked in struggle with heavies like Masters who are a lot like them: self-reliant, often itinerant, world-weary and principled in their own way. Somewhere along the way, these men took a turn Scott's hardened yet caring characters didn't. Their natures aren't so different from Scott's heroes. But their choices were.

Marvin is among the most colorful, cocky and coy of the Boetticher-Scott antagonists. He gets nearly all of the best lines in Seven Men from Now and anchors the movie's signature scene during a rain storm midway through, delivering a brilliantly smug near-monologue in which he manages to subtly offend all three people listening to him. Typically for the Boetticher-Scott movies, Seven Men from Now turns out to be as much of a struggle of wills between these combatants, who might have been buddies in other circumstances, as it is a build-up to their inevitable shootout at the climax. Seven Men from Now's Annie Greer (Gail Russell) is the customarily flawed but alluring woman figuratively caught in the crossfire flying between Scott and the villain as the two jockey for supremacy. She's the husband of easterner John Greer (Walter Reed), who's not as self-reliant as Stride or Masters and not likely to survive the movie's journey. Masters shows his affection for the woman by mouthing off and leering, while Stride does so through quiet gesture and deed.

The unspoken romance that develops between Stride and Annie Greer is especially potent and unexpectedly poignant. There's an amazing shot when Stride parts from the Greers, to await the robbers and likely death. As the Greers' wagon comes towards us, we see Stride watching in the distance, framed by the arch of the wagon's cover, much as John Wayne (whose company produced Seven Men from Now) is framed by a doorway in a similar, yet much more famous, shot in John Ford's The Searchers. It's the most emotional moment in any of Boetticher's westerns.

If ever a director were suited to tales of individual battles against the destructive forces around his hero, as well as against those within that hero, it's Boetticher. Being a movie director wasn't even the Chicago native's boldest accomplishment. Being one of the few Americans to be a matador in Mexican bullfighting was. Bullfighting wasn't just among Boetticher's great accomplishments. It was the metaphor for his entire life. The 50-minute documentary included on the DVD, called Budd Boetticher: An American Original, touches upon the most pertinent details of Boetticher's life. The documentary has some of the clunky structure and graphics that DVD-extra documentaries often do, but it also benefits from its relationship to Bruce Ricker's more comprehensive, TCM-aired Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That (scheduled to have its own DVD release later this year). Because Paramount co-produced Ricker's documentary, it was given access to some of his interviews (including those with Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and Taylor Hackford). So there's a better roster of interview subjects than such profiles usually have.

The DVD also includes a rather dry audio commentary by Jim Kitses, whose 1970s book Horizons West (recently out in a revised edition) was among the first to consider the Boetticher-Scott movies as a body of work, and interesting featurettes on Lone Pine and on Gail Russell, whose chequered life and career I was previously unfamiliar with. All in all, an impressive disc for a relatively obscure yet thoroughly rewarding movie.

For more information about Seven Men from Now, visit Paramount Home Entertainment.

by Paul Sherman