Paramount // 1956 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // January 10th, 2006
"You see, me and Clete figure that when they left Silver they scattered. Seven of them. Two fresh dug holes where your tracks begin, that leaves five still alive."
In the continuing surge of new releases from the vaults of the Batjac/John Wayne production office, the lesser known western film Seven Men From Now comes to DVD featuring extra material similar to films like Hondo and McClintock! Is Seven Men From Now the best Batjac release that doesn't have John Wayne in it?
Seven Men From Now is based on and adapted from a story by Burt Kennedy (The Train Robbers, Welcome to Hard Times) and directed by Budd Boetticher (The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, The Bullfighter and the Lady). In it, former sheriff Ben Stride (Randolph Scott, Santa Fe, Ride the High County) meets wagoneer John Greer (Walter Reed, Emergency Hospital, The High and the Mighty) and his wife Annie (Gail Russell, Angel and the Badman, El Paso). They are heading out West to California, but have to stop in a town where they may encounter some hostile enemies. Along the way, they run into Bill Masters (Lee Marvin, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Cat Ballou, The Dirty Dozen) and his partner Clete (Donald Barry, Junior Bonner, I Shot Billy the Kid). Stride and Masters have their past, but Stride is attempting to avenge his wife's death as she was murdered in a robbery.
It's always an immensely enjoyable experience when it comes to reviewing films that I'm not familiar with. And in this case, this would be my first Randolph Scott film. Scott's face is beaten and weathered, and as a result, perfect for any Western film. Along with Kennedy and Boetticher's guidance, Scott portrays Stride as a man with a dark countenance, but has a tender heart. The three performers would start a partnership that included such films as The Tall T, Comanche Station and Ride Lonesome. The film kicks things off with a pretty cold opening, as Stride kills two people in a calculated manner. But as you learn more about him, you understand that he does this as revenge for his wife's murder. Stride did not manage to hang onto his badge in an election, and his wife was forced to take a job at Wells Fargo because of his pride, which unfortunately resulted in her death during a robbery.
I'd never seen Lee Marvin in a role in anything before 1960 (no, I haven't seen The Caine Mutiny yet), but to watch him as a 29-year-old hoodlum who rules the screen with a presence to be better demonstrated in later films is pretty fun to watch. He enjoys the time onscreen, and he portrays Masters as one who's obviously outspoken. But he does conduct some of his business with a sense of morality, however small. But what's interesting about how Boetticher blurs the lines between good and evil is that you notice that Stride wears the white cap, but Masters and Bodeen (John Larch, Play Misty for Me, Man From Del Rio) wear the black ones, but they all kill without a moment's notice.
Thankfully, this appears to be the first Batjac DVD that doesn't have Leonard Maltin all over the supplemental material, and that's a welcome sign here. Starting things off, there's a commentary with historian James Kitses, who wrote the book "Horizons West: Directing the Western from John Ford and Clint Eastwood," and who met Boetticher and Kennedy several times. In this commentary, Kitses discusses how John Wayne came to be familiar with the story (he was busy on a little film called The Searchers), along with some biographical information on Boetticher, Kennedy and Scott. Some Boetticher technical and style choices are discussed, along with the implication that some of Boetticher's work resembles some noir films, or even the films of Ozu. Some of those who have been influenced by Boetticher's work are mentioned, notably Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ) along with Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). There was talk at some point of Arnold Schwarzenegger even doing a modern remake of this film, scripted by Schrader, but he decided to do Collateral Damage instead. Overall, this is a welcome complement to the film. Next is an almost hour long look at Boetticher, entitled Budd Boetticher -- An American Original. You can either play it in parts or in one fell swoop, and a lot of recognizable names contribute significantly to this feature. Sitting alongside Eastwood is... Quentin Tarantino? Yeah, that's right, Mister Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction himself. And Tarantino is remarkably controlled next to Eastwood, presumably because Eastwood might slap him if he went off on too many tangents, but they both provide good notes. Aside from those two, you've got director/part-time historian Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), fellow director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman) and writer-director Robert Towne (Chinatown, Tequila Sunrise). They all discuss the film's impact on them, while the requisite quota of critics and historians fill in the gaps of Boetticher's life, which in and of itself is pretty interesting. You get a guy who was born in Chicago who goes to Mexico and becomes an accomplished bullfighter, and it gets him a role in Blood and Sand, where he goes on to become a big time director. He walks away from his role in Hollywood (where he was first attached to direct the classic Ride the High Country) to go to Mexico to film a documentary on the best bullfighter of all time, eventually retiring to California to perform artificial bullfighting on horseback for crowds. There is ample time given to Scott and Kennedy, and Boetticher's use of the "likable villain," a tool Hackford feels Boetticher introduced in filmmaking. It's a very excellent look at an unheralded director, and it's as comprehensive as you can get. Turner Classic Movies has started periodically airing a documentary on the director that is supposed to be excellent as well, but save the time on Tivo and watch this one, it's got many of the same people on it anyway. The remaining extras are small but quick, focusing on the location in California where many of the scenes were shot, and a 15-minute look at Russell that discusses her life, warts and all, and it's another one in a long list of talented actors whose lives were cut short by addiction. A couple of trailers and a stills gallery complete the disc.
I never, ever would have thought I'd seen Quentin Tarantino on a feature where he talked semi-rationally and sat on his hands. Granted, I'm not saying this to balance out the review, but it's really more a startling thing that's almost newsworthy.
An old western film, starring a well-known actor, finally comes into the 21st century, and those who have been loyal in waiting have been rewarded with a pretty good treatment from Paramount. This is a film that you will enjoy watching with your father, and that's a good thing.
Paramount is not guilty on all charges. They even managed to get rid of Leonard Maltin for this release! The court is a sucker for the "good film, nice extras, cheap price" moniker, it helps all parties.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Historian James Kitses
* Budd Boetticher -- An American Original
* The John Wayne Stock Company: Gail Russell
* Feature on Lone Pine
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Batjac Trailer
* Photo Gallery