7 Men from Now (1956)

In 7 Men from Now, a Western directed by Budd Boetticher, seven men rob Wells Fargo, steal a lot of gold, and kill the wife of Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) in the process. He sets out to avenge her death, and while he is at it, he retrieves the gold as well. Justice is served. But there is another injustice that has to be addressed in this movie.

When Stride first happens across John Greer (Walter Reed) and his wife Annie (Gail Russell), we can see right off that this guy is a wimp, and we wonder how he ever got himself a wife like Annie. Even when she falls in the mud, she oozes sex appeal. In fact, it may even make it better.  Some men would love to just get down and wallow in the mud with her.  Later, when they are joined by Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and his partner Clete, Masters poses the question to Clete as to why a full woman like Annie would settle for half a man. He is right. Greer just does not deserve Annie.

A man like Masters is the sort who cannot help stepping on something little, so one night while Stride, Greer, Annie, and Masters are inside the covered wagon, Masters starts talking about how deliciously desirable Annie is, practically ravishing her with his words, while her husband, who is being verbally cuckolded, just sits there and takes it. Masters also talks about how he once knew another woman like Annie, who eventually ran off with a real man, suggesting that she has a thing for Stride. And apparently she does, because later, when Stride says goodbye to her, she moves in to be kissed, although he does not avail himself of the opportunity. For one thing, he is a recent widower, and for another, he is too upright to take another man’s wife.

We know that Stride will eventually kill all the men who stole the gold and caused his wife’s death, because that is routine for a Western. It is the injustice of Greer’s being married to Annie that worries us, for there is no standard convention for handling that situation. In The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), there is a similar injustice of Lana Turner being married to Cecil Kellaway, and so she and John Garfield kill him.  But that is simply one form of injustice being corrected at the expense of creating another.  As a result, Turner and Garfield never really get to enjoy the love they deserve, because they must be punished for committing a murder.  What is needed is a way of bringing about the sexual justice we want without having it undone with the injustice of murder.

When Stride discovers that Greer had been hired by the robbers to transport the gold, he takes the box of gold away from Greer and tells him and Annie to go west. We get a sinking feeling. The wrong will never be righted. Fortunately, Greer decides to go south to inform the sheriff of Stride’s situation.

Before Greer can get to the sheriff’s office, the leader of the men who hired him to transport the gold shoots him down in the street. Because Greer knowingly risked his life and lost it trying to help Stride, Masters says he was wrong, that Greer was a man after all. Well, it is nice of Masters to say that, being generous about the man now that he is dead, but we know better. After all, Greer was not wearing a gun, and in a Western, that is always the mark of a weakling. And thus it is that when Greer is shot in the back unarmed as he walks to the sheriff’s office, we breathe a sigh of relief. Though Annie says she loves her husband, yet we know that this is for the best.

Later, after Stride has returned the gold, he tells Annie where he will be working as a deputy and indicates that he would be glad to see her, if ever she should be passing by that way. She quickly decides that after a decent interval (both have recently murdered spouses), she will take him up on that offer. This makes us feel good, because Stride is the real man she has needed all along. When they finally get married, and he gives it to her the way her first husband never could, justice will finally be restored.

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