7 Men From Now (Special Collector's Edition) Review
Ex-lawman Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) opens 7 Men From Now with a walk through a rainstorm, entering a cave in which he sees the flicker of firelight. Accepting a cup of coffee from the two men within, he shoots both before they have a chance to draw their pistols and leaving with their horses, he sets out to track down the remaining five men responsible for the theft of $20,000 from a Wells Fargo freight station in Silver Springs and for the death of his wife, who was the clerk on duty at the time of the robbery.
Along the way, he meets John Greer (Walter Reed) and his wife (Gail Russel), who have taking odd jobs as they head west to make a new home in California, as well as Masters (Lee Marvin), who seems to know a lot about the robbery in Silver Springs but who tells Stride that he's all that stands between him and the $20,000 and that he would sure hate to have to kill him over it...
7 Men From Now is not the kind of western that would convince anyone of the merits of the genre - Randolph Scott plays Ben Stride as a stoic, upright man, a good man reduced to doing bad things to avenge the murder of his wife and he meets various cyphers of the old west as he journeys from Silver Springs, where he was once sheriff, to Flora Vista, where the outlaws are thought to be hiding. Just lately, I've been reading a series of pulp westerns - the Black Horse westerns - that, in terms of the plot, are not that dissimilar to 7 Men From Now. Their tales of revenge, of money, of the desert, of murderers who wear black and of decent men hunting down those who tore their lives apart are cliched little stories, drawn on a small canvas and although entertaining, are not the sort of thing that will draw anyone harbouring feelings of agnosticism towards the genre.
On one viewing of 7 Men From Now, it would have been easy to describe it and the Black Horse books in the same breath as they appear, initially at least, to be little different. Randolph Scott has, for example, none of the complexities of Wayne, who was his contemporary, nor of the later Eastwood. Compared to Wayne's Ethan Edwards from The Searchers, Scott's Ben Stride is a shockingly straightforward character, who begins the film with one thought, revenge, which carries him through the entire film. There is no variation to him, no sense that this is a man who is changed by his hunting of the men who killed his wife, nothing really to say that he's much of a character at all as the sparsity of dialogue in the film is almost suggests that he and the others barely exist outside of what occurs within 7 Men From Now's seventy-eight minutes.
And then you watch it a second time, then a third and then, as doing so for this review, a skip through various key scenes, and 7 Men From Now reveals itself. It doesn't become so much a film in which nothing is said, more one that is economical with its dialogue, in which every sentence and phrase counts. It's not that Ben Stride isn't a character with much of a past, more that it's difficult to discover what that past is as his leaving of the post of sheriff in Silver Springs is only hinted at in one sentence but within that, he hints at his inability to serve as sheriff so soon after the murder of his wife and of his need to avenge her death as well as his pride in not being able to take up a deputy's post. Each word is so carefully weighed, each line spoken with such care that 7 Men From Now isn't become so much a thrilling yarn as a brooding story of revenge in which Ben Stride becomes as immovable as the rocks in which he hides during the film's final shootout.
With each viewing, one character impresses more and more, so much so that despite him being the villain of the piece as well as his crude teasing of Gail Russel's Annie Greer and his threatening of Ben Stride, you find yourself warming to him. Lee Marvin's Masters clearly has the pick of the roles in the film and it's one to which he's so well suited that he's never less than convincing, able to turn Stride and the Greers to his point of view with only a word or two, turning them against him the next. He's double-crossing, a liar and a cold-blooded murderer, as happy shooting a man in the back as facing him in a duel but he's funny, stylish and very charming and even when his words tease, his eyes threaten. He is also the best example that this film offers of these men and woman being players in a game, of which Masters is, aptly, given his name, the one who is clearly in charge of proceedings. Indeed, so familiar is he with the raid on the Wells Fargo station and with Ben Stride that on my first viewing, I was initially convinced that he was behind it only to find that he plays both the outlaws and Stride to his own ends, much as Eastwood and Franco Nero would do in the much later and much more modern A Fistful Of Dollars and Django, respectively.
And so 7 Men From Now, rather than a great epic to become lost in, initially appears to have very little going on within it, only revealing itself within its silences, its few words and phrases and in the way that the eyes of its characters meet, notably those of Ben Stride and Annie Greer. It is, therefore, a perfect film to have on DVD as it has much rewatch value and at only seventy-eight minutes, which pass swiftly by, is no strain on anyone's time. Always surprising, full of great characters and richly plotted, 7 Men From Now is evidence that the praise heaped upon the writing and directing partnership, albeit a little-known one, of Burt Kennedy and Budd Boetticher is justified as well as being a hugely entertaining film in its own right.
The difficulty with correctly rating the restoration of 7 Men From Now is in noting the various spots and stray lines that occasionally appear in the print as presented on this DVD with knowing, through the accompanying documentary, how much better this looks than it has done in the past. Whilst not, therefore, a perfect ten, as has been awarded to recent Warner Brothers restorations using their Ultraresolution process, it does warrant a nine for its outstanding sharpness, depth and richness of colour and for simply looking a world away from the faded, washed out image that existed in the Batjac archives prior to their restoring of the film. All credit then to Batjac for their agreeing to prepare a new print for 7 Men From Now not only for this DVD but in time for Budd Boetticher and Burt Kennedy, the director and writer, respectively, to see it and to hear from its many fans.
The restored mono audio track is outstanding, sounding cleaned up, generally free of any background hiss and presenting the film in a sympathetic, uncluttered fashion, which is as well able to handle the ambient noise in the desert as it is the gunshots that ring about the canyon in the film's last scene but one. It's never a particularly busy soundtrack, save for a Native American attack on Stride and company halfway through the film but the DVD performs well throughout. Finally, 7 Men From Now is subtitled in English and these are of a high standard.
Commentary: Batjac have invited James Kitses to contribute this track given that he's amongst the best placed to do so being a film historian and author of Horizons West: Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher and Sam Peckinpah. As such, this is a very informative commentary, full of detail, biographical notes on the cast and crew and analysis of the film but it's a little too dry for my tastes, particularly when Kitses spends much of the commentary offering his thoughts on the entire Boetticher output in favour of just this one film. He also sounds to have recorded this over a couple of sessions with there being an obvious edit and some repetition where the two halves of the commentary meet. Otherwise, though, it's a good track and well worth a couple of listens - one to accompany this film and another should you ever get to see another Boetticher western.
Budd Boetticher - An American Original (50m38s): A respectable cast of critics and filmmakers have been brought in to pay homage to Budd Boetticher in this feature, including Robert Towne, Clint Eastwood, Peter Bogdanovich and Quentin Tarantino, as they look back over Boetticher's life, his start in Hollywood and his making of 7 Men From Now and other movies. It's a detailed, extensive feature that covers almost all of his life, skipping the years after his retirement but as an interview with Boetticher recorded in 1985 shows, he wasn't resentful of his reputation falling away somewhat as he figured he'd led a pretty full life. This feature ends with a look at the restoration of 7 Men From Now, which includes the before-and-after shot as used in this review.
The John Wayne Stock Company - Gail Russel (13m16s): Prior to making 7 Men From Now in 1956, Gail Russel hadn't made a film in five years and it was only when her friend and co-star in Angel And The Badman, John Wayne, who was the owner of Batjac Productions, suggested that she feature in 7 Men From Now, that she once again found work. However, as this feature reminds us with its use of a piece of background music in a minor key, Russel died only five years after making 7 Men From Now of an alcohol-related illness, never living up to her early promise other than her occasional appearances alongside Wayne and in films such as this one.
Lone Pine (6m25s): Introduced by Chris Langley, the director of the Lone Pine Film Festival, this short feature presents some background information on the festival as well as some location shots from the Californian desert where 7 Men From Now was shot.
Trailers: There are two included here - the original Theatrical Trailer (2m03s) for 7 Men From Now and one for Batjac (5m59s), the film company who brought this to the screen. This second trailer consists of various teasers for such Wayne movies as Island In The Sky, Hondo, The High And The Mighty and McLintock as well as non-Wayne films like Track Of The Cat, Plunder Of The Sun, Ring Of Fear and, of course, 7 Men From Now.
Photo Gallery: Forty-six still images, which includes stills from the film, promotional shots and behind-the-scenes photos, are included here.
This section of the disc ends with the Credits and a trailer for Paramount's John Wayne Collection (1m27s).
We associate a DVD release that calls itself a Special Collector's Edition with two, maybe three, discs and a host of related and unrelated extras that often do little for the film they accompany. Not so in this case, as this single-disc release contains pretty much everything that someone could want - the film itself looks wonderful, the commentary provides plenty of analysis and context and the feature gives a great of background information on the director who brought 7 Men From Now to the screen. In all, it's a superb release and, I assume, most welcome to those who have been waiting so long for this that they'd begun to think they'd only ever imagined it.
Last updated: 02/05/2018 09:07:36