Wednesday, February 22, 2012
From the Rental Vault (1956): Seven Men From Now
Scott plays Ben Stride, a former sheriff who is on the hunt for seven men who robbed a bank and in so doing, shot and killed his wife. He does not intend to arrest them, of course. As he searches, he encounters John and Annie Greer (Walter Reed and Gail Russell), a couple headed to California in a covered wagon. Their wagon is stuck and with Stride's help, they get moving and decide to ride together to the next town. Stride thinks he will find word of the robbers there and the Greers intend to make their way west from it.
But before they reach the town, they meet Bill Masters and Clete (Lee Marvin and Don Barry), two men who have had a foot on either side of the law before. In fact, Stride sent Masters to jail twice when he was still serving as sheriff. Although neither man was involved in the robbery, they are on the trail of those who were so they can recover the stolen money themselves. Masters takes a fancy to Annie Greer and tries to work his way around her husband and Stride, but Stride blocks his schemes and evicts the pair from their little caravan.
Scott is his usual stalwart self, here a man driven by grief and vengeance but still holding to his code out of pride. Some hints are made of a supposed attraction between Stride and Annie Greer, but Scott's 58 years set against her 31 make that not very credible and not very interesting.
Far more interesting is the character arc of John Greer, who begins a weak man and discovers his own surprising strength along the way. Also much more interesting is Lee Marvin, who had been moving up in his size of role and importance of billing. His verbal fencing with Stride and others is several cuts above the usual bad-guy patter in these kinds of movies and he brings a lot more depth to Masters than you'd expect from a movie like Seven Men. A shootout inside a tumbled heap of rocks, crazy-quilt with tunnels, crannies, shadows and hidey-holes also adds a different flavor to the tension than the standard oater fare.
Seven Men was one of more than 40 movies for Marvin and 60 for Scott, and one of about 20 for Russell, who died of alcohol-related liver damage just five years later. It probably doesn't hit the top of the list for any of them, but it's definitely in the better half for all three. It may be a small story without a lot of lasting impact, but as a snapshot of how Westerns could be small movies as well as huge, expansive ones, it's worth a viewer's time.