Seven Men from Now—The inside scoop on how Randolph Scott got the lead.


By Henry C. Parke

In the classic Western, 7 Men from Now, Randolph Scott tracks seven outlaws who robbed a Wells Fargo office of $20,000 and killed a clerk. He is burdened by a well-meaning but ill-equipped couple from the East Coast who would die if left alone, and a pair of dangerous drifters with their own plans for the missing loot. It was the first of what would be six Westerns made between 1956 and 1960, now known as the Ranown Cycle.

The formula? There’s always a woman—only one, always desirable. There’s always money, and a lot of it—loot from a robbery, or a bounty, or what a man is willing to pay to have his captive wife returned. There’s always a sixty-something Randolph Scott, photographed against the giant rock formations of Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills. And there’s always a likable villain, an unlikable one, and young henchmen. It all adds up to six films that aren’t just good: they may be the best string of Westerns ever made.

Randolph Scott in Seven Men From NowThey were principally the work of two young, and two mature, men: war-hero-turned-screenwriter Burt Kennedy, in his mid thirties; spoiled rich-kid-turned-bullfighter-turned-uncompromising-director Budd Boetticher, in his late thirties; savvy producer in film since 1918, Harry Joe Brown, in his mid sixties; and an actor who combined many of those same traits with stoicism, maturity, and a wry sense of humor, Randolph Scott, in his early sixties.

Named Ranown after the production company formed by Scott and Brown, the group ultimately produced The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, Decision at Sundown, and Buchanan Rides Alone as dirt-cheap second features, shot in just 14 to 18 days, for between $400,000 and $500,000 a piece. As their predecessor, 7 Men had the comparatively luxurious budget of $719,000.

Kennedy, a Cavalry First Lieutenant, had helped liberate the Japanese Internment Camp Santo Tomas in Manila. For his efforts, he received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster. He’d seen death up close, and his writing treated it with an unblinking seriousness. Perhaps his experience writing for Hashknife Hartley, a radio show about an Old West detective, had also trained him in suspense. The resulting 7 Men unfolds like a Hitchcock thriller, full of tension and humor. We glean story-changing and life-changing details about characters and relationships through subtle looks and bits of dialogue that make the viewer feel like they’re eavesdropping. John Wayne was so impressed by the story that he decided to star in it. And so, he bought it, setting the film up at Warner Brothers.

But there was a hitch: after the grueling production of John Ford’s The Searchers, Wayne did not want to follow it with another grim revenge yarn. He’d produced non-Wayne movies before, though, and with Jack Warner’s pronouncement that this could be another High Noon, Wayne offered the film to Gary Cooper. But when Cooper passed, it was finally offered to Randolph Scott. Later, Kennedy would remember, “Duke always said he cut his throat because he didn’t make 7 Men from Now.

Randolph ScottRandolph Scott in Seven Men From Now had been born to wealth and social prominence in Virginia. In a 1930s movie, he was as likely to wear a tuxedo as he was a Stetson, segueing effortlessly between adventure fantasies like She, screwball comedies like My Favorite Wife, and of course, Westerns. He co-starred with John Wayne twice in 1942, in The Spoilers and in Pittsburgh. By the late 1940s, he’d said adios to all but the sagebrush sagas. He was still handsome, and he neither dyed his grey hair nor tried to hide the deep lines in his face. Ready to take on 7 Men, Scott suggested Boetticher as director.

Boetticher grew up in Illinois, to a family as wealthy as Scott’s in Virginia. But a serious sports injury had sidelined him in college, and his parents sent him to Mexico for his long convalescence. There, he fell in love with bullfighting, and with coaching by the sport’s masters, he became the first American bullfighter of note. Hired to train Tyrone Power as a matador for 1941’s Blood and Sand, he fell in love with filmmaking. He quickly worked his way up in the film industry, directing his first, a Boston Blackie mystery, just three years later. And when he went on to direct the semi-autobiographical Bullfighter and the Lady, starring Robert Stack, the producer was John Wayne himself.

After 7 Men, the Ranown foursome moved to Columbia’s B-movie unit. There was less money, but with it, less interference from studio heads. As Boetticher explained, “We were making second features as far as the price was concerned. They didn’t think anything about them. They didn’t expect what they got. But [the films] became A-pictures in quality.”

Because the budgets were so tight, the films kept largely away from towns, which would require extras. To avoid the cost of building sets, there were few interiors.

Quality casting was crucial, partly because the casts were so small there was no room for weakness. For 7 Men, the female lead was already set: Wayne had signed Gail Russell when he’d planned to star. She’d been his costar twice, in 1947’s Angel and the Badman, then Wake of the Red Witch in 1948. But she’d had a major career downturn, at least in part because of a drinking problem, and she had scarcely worked in five years. He admired her as an actress and a friend, and against the advice of many, cast her in her comeback role—although it turned out to be opposite Scott rather than himself. While she was a woman of great beauty, and an object of much desire in the film, she’s not overly glamourized: we first see her with mud on her face, helping her inept husband, played by Walter Reed, get their wagon free of a mudhole.

Randolph Scott in Seven Men From NowIn filmmaking as in other forms of storytelling, in order to make the audience worry about the hero, he must have a worthy opponent. The Ranown films take this one step further, with a villain who is smart and likable—sometimes even more so than Scott’s character. As Boetticher explained it, “We did something that was quite new, and I give Burt Kennedy credit for that. Burt wrote wonderful scripts, and our villains were just as important as Randy. And if any of them had killed Randy in the last reel, the audience wouldn’t have minded.” On the brink of stardom, the notably manly villains include a pre-Palladin Richard Boone, a pre-Bonanza Pernell Roberts, Claude Akins, and in 7 Men, future Oscar-winner Lee Marvin. The henchmen and unlikable villains were a fine group as well: James Coburn, Henry Silva, L.Q. Jones, Skip Homeier, Lee Van Cleef.

The films were a career high watermark for everyone involved. Feeling thoroughly satisfied with his body of work, Scott retired after just one more movie, the magnificent Ride the High Country. His partner, Brown, would go on to produce just two more pictures before retiring, as well. As for Gail Russell, her comeback led to film and TV roles, but none the caliber of 7 Men. Five years later, she would pass away alone in her small apartment at the tender age of 36.

Working for Wayne’s Batjac company, Boetticher and Kennedy went on to create a TV pilot about oil wildcatters starring Claude Akins, L.Q. Jones, and several other Ranown regulars—but it didn’t sell. Boetticher would direct many Western TV episodes, and a few movies, including Audie Murphy’s last, A Time for Dying, but he’d already reached his pinnacle. It was Burt Kennedy, in fact, who had the best second act of them all. Continuing to write, he became a director, mostly of Westerns, and perhaps having gotten the post-war seriousness out of his system, he excelled at comedies, including The Rounders, The War Wagon, Support Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Gunfighter, and many more.


About Henry C. Parke

Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based screenwriter and wannabe cowboy Henry C. Parke has been Film Editor for True West since 2015 and has written Henry’s “Western Round-up,” the online report on Western film production, since 2010. His screenwriting credits include Speedtrap (1977) and Double Cross (1994). He’s the first writer welcomed into the Western Writers of America for his work in electronic media. He’s done audio commentary on a fistful of Spaghetti and domestic Westerns, and he’s got a saddle-bag full of Western scripts.