SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, with its box-office take of $2,600,000, only came to place #118 in 1956, but the compact, well-reviewed western recouped its thrifty outlay enough to guarantee star Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher would work together again. Another six times in fact, over the next four years, with four of those written by Burt Kennedy, who scripted this excellent, influential revenge saga. *
‘Ben Stride’ (Scott) doesn’t talk more than necessary, because conversation isn’t what he’s after: he wants to personally perforate the men who were in on the robbery that also killed his wife. His trail intersects naive pilgrims ‘Annie’ & ‘John Greer’ (Gail Russell & Walter Reed), who he helps out of a jam, and they’re joined by Stride’s friendly enemy from the past, ‘Bill Masters’ (Lee Marvin), who’s after the gold taken by the men Stride seeks to kill. It’s a tension-twisting road to ‘Flora Vista’.
Boetticher’s nimble direction works a charm on the cast, who make the most of Kennedy’s spare, precise and character-crafted dialogue. Scott’s lean and harsh stoicism contrasts nicely against Russell’s calm warmth, but the walk-away performance comes from Lee Marvin, whose easy insolence and taunting insinuation hit every line with a fresh turn. He does a marvelously slick fall that sets up his later coup de grace exits in The Comancheros, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Killers. Guy had style.
Besides the fine work from the cast, William H. Clothier’s cinematography is a major player, shooting in the pictorial trove of the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine in the California Sierras, what would become the official landscape for the Randy-Budd westerns. Like Ford used the red earth, spires and monoliths of Monument Valley to stand in for and exemplify The West writ large, Boetticher took full advantage of that serene and lonely section of southern California to sculpt his own vision. As he put it: “If you’re going to make a western, you can’t make a bad shot in Lone Pine. It’s the greatest western location in the world. You had the mountains, the volcanic rocks, and across the road you had sand dunes and rivers.”
The sound effects are on the bland side, but the only real flaw is the flat-out terrible title song; otherwise the scoring from Henry Vars works well enough. Clocking a lean 78 minutes, with John Larch (‘Payte Bodeen’), Don Barry, Stuart Whitman, Fred Graham, John Beradino, Chuck Roberson.
* Burt Kennedy’s script was written for John Wayne’s production company, Batjac, as a vehicle for the Duke. Busy on The Searchers, Wayne, who’d produced Boetticher’s sterling Bullfighter And The Lady back in ’51, introduced director to writer.
Boetticher: “Wayne said, ‘Let’s use Randy Scott. He’s through.’ Well, the Duke’s desire to throw poor Mr. Scott a crumb was the basis for five of the finest films I’ve ever made.” Scott, 58, wasn’t hurting, as he’d been cranking out westerns, four or five a year since the mid-40s (and his investments made him quite rich), but they were generally plodders; this new arrangement revitalized his career. Wayne also saw to it that his troubled friend Gail Russell was hired, after being off-screen for five years due to alcoholism and assorted emotional demons. Aged beyond her 31 years, the once-luminous Russell is still striking, and she delivers a touching performance, but she shortly resumed a path to oblivion that ended her life at 36.