Seven Men from Now—Randolph Scott, Lee Marvin, Gail Russell, Don Barry, Walter Reed, John Larch (1956; Dir: Budd Boetticher)
In the opening scene, former sheriff Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) enters a cave from a driving rain storm and approaches the campfire of two strangers. They’re a little edgy, and they start talking about a recent killing in the town of Silver Springs. Stride sits at the fire and takes a cup of coffee. One of the two asks Stride, “Did they catch the ones who done it?” “Two of ‘em,” responds Stride, carefully watching the others. They draw and Stride gets them both. We don’t know why Stride was the one hunting them, but he walked right in and did it fair and square. And according to the title there are five more to come.
On his way the next morning Stride crosses trails with the Greers, an eastern couple whose wagon is stuck in mud. He helps them pull out and guides them to a deserted stage stop, where they encounter Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and Clete (Don Barry). Masters is somebody Stride once put in jail, and who claims not to have been involved in the robbery in Silver Springs, although he’s interested in the stolen gold. For a while the four travel together, and they rescue a man pursued by Apaches, only for Masters to kill him moments later as the rescued man tries to shoot Stride in the back. Three of seven down; four more to go.
Masters has eyes for Annie Greer (Gail Russell), whose husband John (Walter Reed) is garrulous, unskilled in the ways of the west and perhaps weak. Masters pushes John Greer in a remarkable scene in a wagon in the rain just telling stories, until Stride makes Masters leave.
It turns out Stride is a widower; it was his wife working in the Wells Fargo office who was killed in Silver Springs. Stride lost the last election for sheriff, and when he declined to take a job as deputy, his wife had to work. He’s now attracted to Annie Greer, too, but she’s married and Stride has a strict moral code. Stride and Masters are both heading for Flora Vista, which they think is the likely point for whoever took the Wells Fargo gold to try to get it into Mexico. The Greers are going there to catch a trail west to California.
Masters reaches Flora Vista first after leaving the slower-moving Greers, and there he encounters Payte Bodeen (John Larch), the leader of the gang that planned and committed the robbery and murder. Masters tells them Stride is on his way, and two of the gang are dispatched to intercept Stride in the desert before he gets to Flora Vista. Stride gets them both, but injures his leg and loses his horse in doing so. The Greers, following along behind in their wagon, find him and patch him up as well as they can. John Greer admits that he had unknowingly agreed to take the stolen Wells Fargo box to Flora Vista, and he leaves it in the desert with Stride. Stride figures it will draw the remaining killers to him.
He’s right, and it also draws Masters and Clete. The final shootout for the gold is between Stride and Masters, and it’s great. By the end of the movie, John Greer is also dead, more bravely than one might have expected, and there is the suggestion that Stride and Annie Greer might get together. But they might not, too. That makes this movie one of only two (along with The Tall T) of the Boetticher westerns where Scott may end up with a romantic interest.
The editing of the shooting scenes is very interesting. Although Stride wins at least two of these, we never actually see him draw and shoot. We see Masters constantly playing with his guns, drawing them, loading them, twirling them, and he’s clearly fast, dextrous and confident. Fast as Masters is, Stride is faster, but it’s mostly in our minds. This is a remarkable contrast to how shootout scenes are shot in later westerns, especially after The Wild Bunch.
Scott plays much the same character in all the Boetticher westerns—capable, taciturn, obsessed with vengeance, sure of himself and that he knows all the rules. Lee Marvin is one of the two best villains in a Boetticher movie, and although he is an obvious bad guy he’s not without a certain dangerous charm. The interactions between Scott and Marvin make the movie memorable. You can also see Scott’s frequent uncredited co-star, his beautiful dark palomino horse Stardust.
The script was written by Burt Kennedy for John Wayne, but Wayne couldn’t take the part of Ben Stride because he was scheduled to be in John Ford’s The Searchers. However, this one was produced by Wayne’s Batjac Company and was successful enough to start a series for director Boetticher. The rest were produced by Randolph Scott and Harry Joe Brown—combining their names in that of their production company, Ranown.
This is the earliest and one of the best of the westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, all made during a surprisingly brief period in the late 1950s. “Spare” is one word frequently used to describe the storytelling in them. They typically don’t have large casts or budgets, and they’re not long, but they work well. Burt Kennedy wrote this one, as he did the best of these collaborations. This and the other Boetticher westerns were unavailable for decades, appreciated only by a small cult of fans and, of course, the French. But you can now find them on DVD, and they’re well worth watching, especially the stronger entries in the series (The Tall T, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station).