The Paramount DVD release of Seven Men from Now should make film lovers extremely happy and Western fans near-delirious. The modestly budgeted classic that began the legendary Randolph Scott-Budd Boetticher-Burt Kennedy collaboration had been legally tied up for years, but thanks to Gretchen Wayne and Batjac, the film is finally available in an unbelievably gorgeous transfer on a disc that is loaded to the brim with great supplemental material.
Burt Kennedy’s taut story follows ex-lawman Scott as he tracks the men who killed his wife in a hold-up. The film opens with him shooting two of the robbers before falling in with settler Gail Russell and her husband, Walter Reed. After helping repair their wagon, Scott tracks along with the couple headed to the same small town where he hopes to find the other killers. Scott’s old nemesis Lee Marvin decides to join the group, waiting for Scott to kill the seventh hold-up man and lead him to the cash from the robbery. The problem is that the seemingly passive Reed has been secretly transporting the stolen money all along, leading everyone into one last, violent showdown.
Budd Boetticher’s direction is clean and economical as to be almost invisible. His eye for his characters and the sweeping Lone Pine locations compliments the tough story, keeping the action in constant and intense focus until the final moments. William Clothier’s photography is stunning, and this restored print shows it off in all its rich detail. With all of these assets, it is the razor-sharp performances that ultimately carry Seven Men. Randolph Scott firmly established his honorable loner here, a character who would continue through the other Scott-Boetticher films. In perfect contrast to Scott is Lee Marvin. Young and wiry, Marvin moves like a panther and his slouching, easy manner camouflages the explosive violence of his character. Lovely Gail Russell is excellent as the young wife who’s drawn to Scott. It’s a subtle, measured performance from the fragile actress, whose drinking had already left its mark on her features.
Seven Men was originally written for John Wayne, but the producer-star was committed to The Searchers and so decided to make the film as a vehicle for his old friend Randolph Scott, whose popularity at the time was declining. In WW #6, Seven’s co-producer Andrew McLaglen recalled, “I went all out to get the chance to direct that picture, but (Wayne’s partner) Bob Fellows wanted Budd. We shot the whole picture in Lone Pine, California and it turned out to be a pretty darned good picture. I’m still proud of it.”
Although John Wayne’s company made Seven Men possible, Boetticher and Scott wasted no time in partnering with producer Harry Joe Brown and moving their production deal back to Columbia to make another five films, including The Tall T, Ride Lonesome and Comanche Station. The details behind this decision and the history of Boetticher’s life and career are superbly documented in Budd Boetticher – An American Original. This hour-long look at the maverick filmmaker is included on the disc and its insight into Budd’s life via interviews with him and a critical analysis of his work from Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino and others makes this DVD invaluable.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s a very good background piece on making movies in Lone Pine, a collection of Batjac trailers, still gallery and a touching tribute to the beautiful Gail Russell.
Despite being rarely seen for over forty years, Seven Men from Now earned its place in cinema history as the cornerstone of Budd Boetticher’s cult reputation. Critics have lauded it as the start of a Western series on par with the Anthony Mann/James Stewart collaborations and as the best non-John Wayne film that Batjac ever produced. That’s quite a burden for such a modest movie, but Seven Men carries its critical weight and then some. The film is every bit as good as legend would have it, and now, thanks to this incredible DVD, everyone can experience it first-hand.