Film Review: Seven Men From Now,
Budd Boetticher, 1956
'Burt and I agreed that western heavies over the years had been portrayed as much too heavy. They rode black horses and wore black hats. You never saw anything good about any of them. Well, we set out to make our villains extremely attractive. Sure they were going to get killed - eventually - by our hero, but we wanted our audience to really love 'em while they were still kickin'.'
Budd Boetticher, writing in his Memoirs, When in Disgrace, 1989
'The moral of Boetticher's films is.....a simple one: everyone loses. Life defeats charm, innocence is blasted. The world is finally a sad and funny place, life a tough, amusing game, which can never be won but must be played. If Boetticher's films can darken to near-tragedy, the pessimism is always held in check by an innate response to the absurdity of it all, the way in which we are forced to take up roles in a farce. It is this comic awareness in Boetticher that is behind what appears a natural classicism.' Jim Kitses, Horizons West,1969
Seven Men From Now,
Budd Boetticher, 1956
This is a fine western with some great performances from the principal actors. Randolph Scott is the stiff backed stoical lawman whose pride has cost him his job and who wants to avenge the death of his wife and reassert himself. Lee Marvin is the villain, but his character is rather understated, not an archetypal psychopath but a flawed human being with redeeming qualities. Similarly Gail Russell is plausible; clearly there is some chemistry going on between her and Scott although the latter's morality does not allow it to progress....or does it? Her relationship to Scott is similar to the influential Shane's relationship of Jean Arthur to Alan Ladd. In both films the settler husband is shown to be a weak character who draws strength from and commitment to, the hero. Seven Men From Now is an odyssey film during which the interplay of the characters is woven in a series of episodes. As such Budd Boetticher shows himself to be a shrewd observer of human behaviour and motivation as well as an artful director in carrying us forward with the plot.
Made by John Wayne's production company Batjac since it employed the writer, Burt Kennedy, it was the first of a memorable collaboration between Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher, which included six (by including the inferior Westbound some say seven) films over four years. Wayne reputedly saw himself in the role, but was busy with John Ford making the Searchers. Even though the story is quite basic, just like the actors the plot is believable, and although certain standard aspects of the western are included, for example the shoot out, it is never formulaic. Neither is the direction, which uses the natural backdrop of the beautiful Lone Pine area in California to represent a wild awesome but lonely environment in which the protagonists have to make decisions and live - or die - by them.
The Native Americans are merely part of this backdrop. Early on in the odyssey which he undertakes with the lone emigrant couple Scott's take on the danger presented by the Chiricahaua is interesting: rather than demonise the threat he comments that they are half starved. It seems that his morality even extends to the Indians. When a group of them appear he pragmatically buys them off by giving them one of his horses, a rather downbeat, and no nonsense response. This is a far cry from the usual dehumanised representation. While it is considered the view is hardly sympathetic but more matter of fact. It may be that as a fleeting reference the sequence is merely affirming Scott's character's decency, but the contrast to more stereotypical representations suggests that the director was also making a point. At the very least the depiction fits in with Boetticher's approach to the genre, which is far more subtle in characterization than most of his contemporaries. I thoroughly recommend all six of the Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher collaborations. While many cite The Tall T as the best one, Budd Boetticher himself is reputed to have selected Seven Men From Now. Who am I to disagree? I thoroughly recommend this excellent film.
Seven Men From Now, 1956
Decision at Sundown, 1957
The Tall T, 1957
Buchanan Rides Alone, 1958
Ride Lonesome, 1959
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© Chris Smallbone February 2009