Sunday, March 7, 2010

Seven Men from Now

Seven Men from Now, 1956
Dir: Budd Boetticher

Fuck. I think I might have to wait until the end of watching all the "Ranown" films before I try to rank them because after watching two of them, I have been blown away by both. I think this might even be better than The Tall T (1957), and that's saying something. The visuals are great and poetic, as expected, but it is really Randolph Scott's turn as Ben Stride that makes this one so special. I understand that this will give the impression to many people that his performance, since it is so important, is probably really over the top and energetic, but it is the exact opposite. I've talked about this before, but this is classic Western protagonist type passiveness and Scott totally nails it. Again.

Providing support is Lee Marvin as Masters, a villain, of sort, but one that is on remotely friendly terms with Stride. He is a full, breathing character who you can never quite get a bead on. The film’s romantic thrust is courtesy of Gail Russell as Annie Greer, the wife of a naive and much less masculine (at least in comparison to Stride or Masters) man, John Greer. Greer can obviously be compared to the spineless husband in The Tall T, but Greer ends up being a much better character by the end. The Greer couple happens upon Ben Stride in the middle of the desert while they’re on their way to California to take advantage of a job opening. Stride helps get the Greers out of a mud puddle, and they respond by inviting him on their journey. This all happens within the scope of about ten minutes, which provides a perfection explanation of Boetticher’s pace. Perhaps equating his sense of pacing to Antonioni would make film buffs scoff (I can fucking hear it), but he definitely seems to be in the same ballpark.

Also in the first ten minutes, is one of the most brilliant moments in the entire film. As Stride and John Greer wash up their respective horses, Annie takes a swim some distance away. She begins to sing, and her song begins to eclipse the awkward and clumsy attempts by her husband to make conversation with Stride. To inadvertently quote the back of the DVD box, Stride is a no-nonsense character, and yet he constantly finds himself stuck with people filled with nonsense. Only Stride’s nemesis, Masters, seems to be on the same (emotional) page, which also, in a way, foreshadows the "lost brothers" relationship of the head robber and Scott in The Tall T.

Oddly enough, the emotional sensibility of every western protagonist is called in to question only a couple minutes later in the film when Masters grills John on how he was able to end up with Annie. He mentions how he and Stride are tough, simple minded men with no time for fancy concepts like love, while John, being sensitive, does. Obviously, Stride and Masters are the more superficially masculine men, but the implication (from screenwriter Burt Kennedy) is that they are just as soft. This isn’t a groundbreaking hypothesis, but it is one of the few times I can personally recall a Western present the topic so openly. There’s all the usual great Boetticher goodness in this movie, too, which also contributes a good deal to its greatness.


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