Seven Men From Now

(Budd Boetticher, 1956): When Lee Marvin first claps eyes on Randolph Scott in the sublime Seven Men From Now, he all but growls with devilish glee: here’s a guy he can fuck with royally and endlessly and he might as well because after all he’s Lee Marvin we all know Scott’s going to have to kill him at some point anyway. But in the meantime, one of the most exquisite Burt Kennedy/Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott collaborations has lots of nasty grownup fun. After all, Scott has arrived at this godforsaken desert stage stop with a beautiful woman (Gail Russell), her ‘half-a-man’ husband and a covered wagon filled with money nobody but the husband knows is there, and Marvin knows all the old golden boy’s secrets. Like he was the sheriff turned the key on Marvin not once but twice, how Scott’s Wells Fargo agent wife was killed by seven men when the Sheriff was out seeking work after losing his job, and — most importantly from our point of view — how Scott’s Ben Stride has no sense of humour at all and is therefore irresistibly tormentable. So Marvin’s unsurprisingly rejected proposition to Stride — that he let the wolf have the stolen cash because Stride’s reward will be the revenge — is merely the pretext that permits perversity to prevail. What this movie’s really about is how far Marvin can push Scott before the stoicism cracks and the bullets fly, and how far Marvin will go to make this happen. Perhaps more than any other of the Boetticher/Scott movies, this one demonstrates just how badly Scott needed a nuanced antagonist to offset his rocky imperturbability, and why heroes aren’t really worth a saddleful of dust without a villain to goad them into action. And goad Marvin does, even moreso and more Method-ically than Richard Boone did in The Tall T. Just watch how the movie loves him: how it gives him delicious bits of business with his guns, sartorial flourishes and an easy stride, how it grants him maybe the best speech in the whole cycle — when Marvin intrudes upon a covered wagon coffee break and quietly exposes everyone’s most secret fears and desires — and then lets him die in such a magnificent fashion you’re left mourning for the sheer boredom of a world left without him. A great and perfect little movie. (Paramount Home Entertainment)