Seven Men from Now (1956)

Seven Men from Now (1956), directed by Budd Boetticher.

Ex-sheriff Randolph Scott's wife was killed during a gold robbery, and now he's after the seven outlaws involved, who obviously should not be making long term plans. He helps out a tenderfoot couple in a wagon, and they are joined by shady character Lee Marvin and his partner who are more interested in the stolen gold and the settler's wife, the sad-eyed Gail Russell.

We run out of outlaws by the end: one by one, and then there were none.

It's a combination of revenge action and tense personal relations. Scott's virtues as a western hero are readily apparent: the impassive, deep-lined face, upright posture, laconic manner and dry wit. But he also has something else that is harder to define: intimations of loneliness and yearning.

Lee Marvin is, as always, outstanding. Here he occupies a gray area between the sheriff and the men he is hunting. We don't hate him, but recognize he is on the other side of a line. He has a great "what the hell just happened?" moment in the climactic quick-draw shootout.

The director has a reputation for better quality westerns of the 1950s, but this is the first one I can remember seeing. I'll be looking for the others now. All have Scott and the plot outlines are similar to this one.

The DVD has an informative commentary track by a film historian and Boetticher expert. He says the film was restored and is "immaculate", but the video image looks soft to me. He calls it a lost masterpiece and says that Boetticher has been more appreciated by other directors than the public at large. But several titles are available now, so that may change.

Produced by Batjac, John Wayne's company. Only 78 minutes long. I don't know who sings the theme song: it's that painful type of men's western chorus I think of as "The Chuckwagon Boys". Lone Pine, used for hundreds of westerns and desert SF films, has exceedingly eerie rock formations.

Written by Burt Kennedy, his first film credit.