Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Seven Men from Now

Seven Men from Now (1956)
Dir. Budd Boetticher
Starring: Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Gail Russell

Ben Stride is on the trail of the seven men that killed his wife during a robbery.

This is the first of the Ranown films, the seven films featuring the collaboration of Randolph Scott, Budd Boetticher, and (most of the time) writer Burt Kennedy. These three came together when John Wayne had to back out of acting in this film due to his commitment to The Searchers*, which led Wayne producing it through his Batjac production company and the casting of Scott, and in turn the beginning of one of the more interesting series of westerns of the fifties. Each of the films that Boetticher, Scott, and Kennedy made together are interesting in the way they handle things in more of an adult manner. Some of the films feature scenes of violence that is shocking to see in a film from this time period, and how they handle the relations between the heroes and the villains of the films. Each film features Randolph Scott as the stone faced hero, and an interesting opponent for him to square off with, with the characters often having some bit of friendship or respect for each other. This film is no different. This film is like peeling an onion. As you go proceed through the film it slowly reveals it’s backstory through the conversations between the characters, but at the same time it never feels like any character is stuck giving an exposition dump of dialogue. The film moves at a quick pace, and it looks great even though some scenes do feel a bit soundstagey.

Randolph Scott carries the film as a strong, silent lead. The role of Ben Stride was originally written for John Wayne, and it isn’t hard to see him in the role. But Scott is good in the film and his scenes with Marvin are great due to their great on screen chemistry. Most of his other scenes are with Gail Russell’s Annie Greer, and they work even if their 26 year age difference makes their pairing seem a bit off putting at times. Gail Russell had an unfortunately tragic life, and Wayne got her cast in this film hoping to help turn things around for her, but her alcohol addiction caused her death not long after this film. She's good in the film, and her scenes with Scott are the emotional core of the film.

Lee Marvin steals the film, and fills every scene with a spark that make the film come alive with energy. This isn’t one of his first films, but it feels like a star making performance. He outclasses everyone else in the film, and some of the scenes without him seem to suffer a bit due to the lack of energy he brings to the film. His scenes with Scott are immensely entertaining and you get the feeling that the characters respect and in some ways like each other, so when they finally end up against each other at the end of the film the viewer is more invested than they would with a lesser in Marvin's role.

The movie features a title song that Budd Boetticher hated, and tried to get removed from later prints of the film, but the song was kept at the insistence of the production company Batjac. The song isn’t great, but the title songs that westerns from this period had is one of my favorite things about this period of film making. It’s also fitting due to the more upbeat nature of the American westerns of the fifties. It makes since for these films, but it would be out of place for a more serious and violent spaghetti western to have one, and modern audiences would probably laugh at one in a modern film**.

This is a great film. I'd say that it is one of the more important western films of the fifties due to the film's that followed it from Scott and Boetticher, and it's worth watching for Lee Marvin's performance alone. But the film is very well made, and fun to watch.

*John Wayne opting for The Searchers over this film was the best decision that he could of made. He later regretted not making Seven Men from Now after seeing the finished film, but I don't think that he would of been better than Randolph Scott is in this film and Wayne's performance in The Searchers is one of the best of his career, and part of the reason why The Searchers is one of the greatest films of all time.

**Actually they do. When the theme from the original Django played during Django Unchained, the audience that I saw it with laughed.

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