Seven Men From Now| Review
In the Criterion Channel's August catalog for newly added films, included are a number of key films in the work of Budd Boetticher. His notable films ---- Seven Men From Now, Ride Lonesome, Decision at Sundown, and The Tall T ---- all make the cut, accompanied by the various and exclusive extras that come with every film on the platform. ----And one can't help but question why these seemingly short-lengthed, low-budget, genre films receive such appreciation on such an infamously precise distributor. But after watching a number of them and studying their greatness, their attributes start to become noticeable.
In film history, there's a distinct break between the 'standard' westerns of the late 40s-early 50s and the hard-boiled and no-nonsense westerns of Sam Peckinpah. The break didn't merely happen overnight. Years of revamping and reworking the qualities of the American western genre sprung out through garnering influence from a number of sources. Boetticher, with his pre-Peckinpah attributes ---- low cost and ruthless filmmaking ---- refurbished the Hawksian style of yesteryear westerns into something much more tough and mature. His films don't deal with black-and-white narratives, and instead, concern complex moral and psychological ideals.
Despite all that makes the film great, Boetticher's tale of brutal realism is perhaps its greatest feature. It's not a heightened storyline, with loads of plot devices and subplots, but instead, it sticks to a minuscule and almost greek tragedy-like structure that pays off in the home stretch. With the backdrop of a fierce and unforgiving desert, Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) must find the seven men responsible for his wife's death, and during which must also help a couple passing through California and convict Stride once arrested. Boetticher isn't merely out to focus on the end goal of the film, rather he examines the trials these characters must encounter. He crafts his narrative to represent the psychological draw humans have towards revenge, and how one must come in conflict with it.
Does Stride embody the hypocrisy of humans? Why must he now become friends with one of his past convicts only when he needs something from him? Doesn't Stride acknowledge that he himself disobeyed the justice he fought for as a lawman by deciding to seek out revenge? Why must Stride continue his actions even when he sees that nothing can bring back his wife? Clearly, Boetticher frames the film's themes around a multitude of questions, as opposed to straightforward answers. The moral questioning and ambiguity are only heightened by the wide and open landscape of the western desert.
Only Boetticher, and a few others, are capable of conveying the emptiness of the film's setting through their mise-en-scene. In nearly every frame in the film, there are three distinct elements. The first being the sandy desert terrain that lingers at the bottom of the screen. The Second is the characters, usually positioned either very close together or very far apart. And third is the depth of the field, which tends to contain the rocky horizon of the location. All three components collaborate with one another to achieve the exact vision of the director. As one would expect Seven Men From Now is up there with some of the greatest westerns in all of cinema, and perhaps in all of film.
Time Stamp: August 2021