Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
A whole mythology of frontier ethics is evoked with spartan vigour in this riveting classic western, rescued from obscurity (and terminal colour degeneration) by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Randolph Scott is the upright hero, laconic, repressed and severe, old. Young Lee Marvin is his mesmerising nemesis, his every word a scathing evaluation of the sexual pecking order. The plot is just as tightly sprung. — BG
In the first scene of Seven Men, as clean and classic an opening scene as you will ever see, Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) wanders upon a lonely campsite where two men sit on a rainy night. He asks if he can join them. Talk turns to the nearby town of Silver Springs. Seems there was a bank robbery. Seems a woman was killed. Seems the robbers, all seven of them, got away. The two cowboys grow increasingly wary. ‘That killin’, one finally asks, ‘they ever catch up to them fellas that done it?’. ‘Two of them,’ Stride replies – and kills them.
The title, like the film, is pre-determined. Seven men robbed a bank. Seven men from now, the protagonist’s task will be completed. As the story progresses, the viewer learns all is not that simple: the woman killed in Silver Springs was Ben Stride’s wife; she took the job at the bank because he was too proud to take a lesser job after not being re-elected sheriff… Lee Marvin stands in for Stride’s dark side; Gail Russell for his dead wife.
Through the south Texas landscape rides the most iconographic of western stars. André Bazin, in his 1957 review of Seven Men, was the first to remark on Randolph Scott’s resemblance to William S. Hart, the original ‘old stoneface’. Scott seems as detached from the events around him as a pantocrator looking down from a Constantine dome. Increasingly in the Ranown films, Scott refers to himself in the third person (‘A man ought to be able to take care of his woman,’ he says), because he is the third person: there’s you, me and Him. — Paul Schrader, Film Comment, 9-10/01
Almost perfect… When people say the western is Hollywood’s greatest genre, this is the kind of film they have in mind. — Edward Buscombe, Sight & Sound, 11/00