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Seven Men from Now (1956)
Seven Men from Now is a 1956 Western film directed by Budd Boetticher and produced by John Wayne's Batjac Productions. Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) walks into a desert cave encampment during a nighttime rainstorm. He encounters two men taking shelter next to a fire and asks to join them. Stride tells the men he's from the town of Silver Springs, which provokes a mysterious reaction from the two men. They discuss a robbery and murder that recently occurred there. The men become suspicious of Stride, and when they realize his intentions, he guns them down. The following day Stride tracks someone through the Arizona wilderness and comes upon a wagon stuck in the mud. Stride uses the two horses he confiscated from the men at the encampment to help pull the wagon clear, and the wagon's owners, John and Annie Greer, are grateful. Travelers from Kansas City, they admit they are inexperienced at frontier life and ask Stride to ride with them as they head south to the border town of Flora Vista on their way west to California. Greer says he hopes to find a sales job there, but has been taking odd jobs along the way.
An obvious forbearer to Clint Eastwood's groundbreaking Unforgiven, 7 Men concerns Ben Stride (Randolph Scott), the former sheriff of Silver Springs and a recently widowed drifter. Not a drifter without purpose, however. When seven men held up a Wells Fargo office, they killed Stride's wife and ran off with twenty grand. In a chilling opening scene, Stride kills off two of them in a small cave and then heads off to find the rest. Early in his mission he runs across Annie and John Greer (Gail Russell and Walter Reed, respectively), a couple heading to California to find their fortune. He also runs across an ex-con that he locked up once, Bill Masters (the ever-brilliant Lee Marvin), who agrees to help Stride for the possibility of picking up the stolen loot. But, as always, nothing is as it seems.
Every character has a secret and Boetticher stages every scene with an astute sense of mystery. Even by today standards, the tremendous script, by first-timer Burt Kennedy, twists and turns in ways that modern thrillers (I'm looking at you, Mindhunters) couldn't even dream of accomplishing. Boetticher and Kennedy never allow the audience to expect what is going to happen next, and they both have an acute sense of the darkness that greed and vengeance bring out in men.
At a scant 78 minutes, the film leaves no trace of fat. Every scene has an otherworldly tension, even in the calm moments. Consider an early scene where the Greers and Stride stop to wash horses: Annie goes to a small patch of river to swim and sing while Stride and John wash down the animals. Between John mentioning Silver Springs and the sound of Annie's singing, Boetticher layers the suspense of what happened in the past in Silver Springs while also planting the seeds of romantic yearning between Stride and Annie. Both Russell and Reed bring brooding emotion to their roles, but Scott paints a deep, steely portrait of a man haunted by misguided regret and terse yearning that keeps us at a distance, yet lets us understand every action he takes and doesn't take.
The two climactic shoot-outs outside of Flora Vista (where the Greer's are heading and the five remaining men are hiding out) give the gifted cinematographer William Clothier scenes to show his undeniable talents with space and lighting. Boetticher ends the film on a note of muted emotion, but there's no denying that the film gets everything right and we indeed feel this movie in our stomachs and hearts. Not completely unlike the John Ford classic My Darling Clementine, Boetticher's film shows how sparse style and subtle, quiet moments tend to dig much deeper than noisy gobbledygook.
The DVD includes numerous extras: Commentary track, a Budd Boetticher retrospective, and a featuretter on Gail Russell, among other smaller tidbits.
Aka Seven Men from Now.