THE AMERICAN WEST (mostly): Fact and Fiction (mostly fiction)

"NOBODY GETS TO BE A COWBOY FOREVER." -- Chet Rollins (Jack Palance) in MONTE WALSH (NG, 1970)

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Sunday, December 23, 2012


# 14

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Batjac/WB, 1956)

BEN STRIDE (Randolph Scott):  What happened up there?

BILL MASTERS (Lee Marvin):  Payte Bodeen...I killed him.


BILL MASTERS:  Why not? 

DIRECTOR:  Budd Boetticher;  PRODUCERS:  Andrew McLaglen,  Robert E. Morrison, John Wayne;  WRITER:  Burt Kennedy;  CAMERA:  William H. Clothier

CAST:  Randolph Scott, Gail Russell, Lee Marvin, John Larch, Walter Reed, Donald Barry, Stuart Whitman, Pamela Duncan, John Berradino, Cliff Lyons, Chuck Roberson, Fred Graham 

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW was the first teaming of director Budd Boetticher and star Randolph Scott -- and it almost didn't happen.  The film was produced by John Wayne's Batjac production company and it was his intention to star in the film.  The fact that he had a conflict and did not leads to one of the big "what ifs" in Western film history.  What if he had starred in the film and had been directed by Boetticher?  Who knows what that may have led to.  One possibility is that Boetticher might never have teamed with Randolph Scott to film seven outstanding Westerns, with at least four of them considered to be classics in the genre.

Beginning with the next film in the series, THE TALL T (Columbia, 1957),  Harry Joe Brown would take over as producer, and Ranown, Scott and Brown's production company that had been making Scott's pictures, would take charge of five of the final six.  The one exception, and the weakest of the Scott-Boetticher films, was WESTBOUND (1959), which was produced by Warner Brothers.

This movie is a precursor in many ways to what would follow in the Scott-Boetticher-Brown collaboration.  It is a “journey” Western; Scott is a loner seeking vengeance who finds himself against his will forced to take on the task of protecting a woman; and the villain (in this case, Marvin) receives as much screen time and as many lines of dialogue as Scott; and it is shot almost entirely on location in and around Lone Pine, California, which was Boetticher's favorite location.  In addition, the screenwriter was Burt Kennedy, who was responsible for the four best scripts in the series.

Ben Stride (Scott) is an ex-sheriff in Arizona who is on the vengeance trail looking for the seven men who killed his wife while holding up a freight office in Silver Springs.  Stride had lost his re-election and his pride kept him from taking the job of deputy that was offered him.  His wife was forced to take a job that put her in the line of fire when the holdup and shoot-out occurred.  Therefore Stride feels partly responsible for her death.

The stage for the rest of the movie is set in its opening scene when Stride, during a torrential thunderstorm, approaches two of the men he is seeking. After that it was “five men from now.”  It was one of the two best scenes in the film.

Later he hooks up with greenhorn John Greer (Reed) and his wife (Russell), who are traveling by wagon to California.  Since it is apparent that they will never get there on their own, he agrees to travel part of the way with them.  Along the way, they pick up more traveling companions, a couple of hardcases (Marvin and Barry) who are looking for the same men as Stride, but for different reasons.  They want the gold that the outlaws stole.

The other great scene in the movie occurs inside the Greer’s wagon, also during a thunderstorm, when Masters (Marvin) taunts both Stride and Greer in the presence of Mrs. Greer.  It was a scene-stealing performance by Marvin, who was in the process of perfecting a screen persona that would make him one of the great villains in both Western and non-Western roles.

This was not the first time that Marvin found himself playing a badman in a Randolph Scott film.  In HANGMAN'S KNOT (Columbia, 1952), he portrays a violent character very much related to his character in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, but without the leavening humor he brings to the latter role.  In between the two Scott Westerns Marvin would appear in THE WILD ONE (Columbia, 1953) and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (MGM, 1955) in which he would receive good notices for his bad guy characterizations. 

Randolph Scott first appeared on the screen in 1929.  His first starring roles were in well-crafted, low-budget Westerns, many of which were based on Zane Grey stories. But over the years he appeared in a variety of films, including a number of Westerns.    

WESTERN UNION (Fox, 1941), also based on a Zane Grey story, was a landmark Western in which he received favorable critical reviews for his portrayal of a "good-badman."  Beginning with ABILENE TOWN (UA) and BADMAN'S TERRITORY (RKO) in 1946, he would for the rest of his career, with only a couple of exceptions, appear only in Westerns.  And along the way there would be some outstanding ones, such as CORONER CREEK (Columbia, 1948),  THE WALKING HILLS (Columbia, 1949), and MAN IN THE SADDLE (Columbia, 1951).  Harry Joe Brown was the producer on all three of those as well as the other Westerns that Scott starred in during the years prior to SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.

By 1956, when SEVEN MEN FROM NOW was released, Scott was 58-years-old, but he didn't look it.  Tall and lean and weathered, he looked even more like an authentic westerner than he did earlier in his career.  And he sounded like one, too.  John Wayne could have played the role, but it is hard to see how he could have done it any better than Scott.  Furthermore, if Wayne had been the star, Marvin's role might have been reduced and that would have been a detrimental development.

Gail Russell, in her early thirties, was still beautiful in 1956; however, time had not been good to her.

Born in 1924, her first screen role came in 1943.  A few years later John Wayne chose her to co-star with him in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (Republic, 1947) and WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (Republic, 1948).  But Russell was a troubled soul who suffered from a severe case of shyness, insecurity, and stage fright which she attempted to combat by resorting to alcohol.  As a result she became addicted.

She had been off the screen for five years when Wayne attempted to resurrect the career of his friend by choosing her to play opposite him in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.  Wayne had a conflict and consequently Russell found herself co-starring with Scott.  She would appear in only three more films, the last in 1961.  She died that year as a result of malnutrition and liver damage brought on by her addiction to alcohol.  She was 36-years-old.

Don Barry first gained prominence by starring in the popular Republic western serial, ADVENTURES OF RED RYDER (1940).  From 1940 to 1945, he starred in a B-Western series for the same studio, always billed as Don "Red" Barry, a nickname that he hated.  After his Republic series ended he starred in low-budget films, mostly Westerns, and became an extremely busy character actor in movies and on television.  His role in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW ranks among his best.

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW was filmed on location in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California.  The hills were part of the Sierra Nevada range and Mt. Whitney can often be viewed in the distance in films shot there.  Boetticher would later return there to film other movies in his favorite location.


"Solid Western....Marvin is terrific." -- Leonard Maltin

"'s a thrill to watch a filmmaking team that knows exactly what they wanted, and for them, practice made perfect." -- Elvis Mitchell in The New York Times

"Marvin [is] a magnetic, not-so-bad complement to Scott's not-so-good hero." -- Michael Atkinson in The Village Voice





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