Western RoundUp: Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)

Western RoundUp: Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)

This month we’ll be taking a “close-up” look at a single Western, the very entertaining Audie Murphy film Seven Ways From Sundown (1960).

Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960) Lobby Card
Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960) Lobby Card

Murphy plays the awkwardly named Seven Ways From Sundown Jones, who reports for work at a Texas Rangers office headed by Lt. Herly (Kenneth Tobey).

Jones is something of a green kid, who joined up after his older brother Two’s death while serving with the Rangers; Jones is great with a rifle but inexperienced using a handgun. Despite Jones’s dubious qualifications for frontier law enforcement, the short-staffed Lt. Herly sends Seven out to capture the dangerous outlaw — and ace shot — Jim Flood (Barry Sullivan).

Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960) John McIntire & Audie Murphy
John McIntire & Audie Murphy

Jones is aided by Sgt. Henessey (John McIntire), who tries to quickly teach Jones what he knows, especially how to handle a sidearm. Circumstances lead to Jones ultimately striking out on his own after Flood, and he proves to be more resourceful than anyone expects, capturing Flood and fending off Flood’s attempts to escape.

As Jones and Flood get to know one another on the trail back to Texas, an uneasy respect develops; they rather enjoy one another’s company, but Jones has a job to do…and he’s also unaware of a critical fact: Flood killed his older brother Two.

Soon Jones and Flood have additional problems, dealing with Apache Indians as well as men who want to take Flood in for the reward, and they don’t care if they have to kill Jones to do it.

John McIntire & Audie Murphy

Seven Ways From Sundown is a top Murphy Western thanks to a good cast and a sharp, well-paced script by Clair Huffaker, based on his own novel.

There’s a very nice, typically excellent supporting turn by McIntire, but the majority of the film features Murphy and Sullivan front and center, and they really strike sparks together. The two men have a relationship in the film which is quite reminiscent of Murphy and Dan Duryea in one of Murphy’s best earlier films, Ride Clear of Diablo (1954), but at the same time, Murphy and Sullivan create something unique which allows the film to stand on its own as a superior Murphy film.

Audie Murphy in Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960)
Audie Murphy

This was Murphy’s 20th Western, but despite a dozen years in films and being in his mid-30s, he still has the looks of an innocent “kid.” Henessy worries that his boss Lt. Herly is going to send the young man to an early death, but Henessy argues he’s short on men and has no choice — and anyway, Jones signed up for the job so oh, well! Little do we know at that early point that Herly may have ulterior motives in assigning the job to Jones and that he would not be terribly upset were Jones to fail.

One of the interesting aspects of Murphy’s film persona, well illustrated in this film, is that while he is typically rather quiet and seems on the young side, there’s also an interesting undercurrent of danger. I’ve recently come across critics who say that Murphy wasn’t tough on-screen or a particularly good actor, which causes me to feel baffled; it seems as though we’re watching two different men! A Murphy character like Jones may be a nice, honorable guy as well as a bit of a greenhorn, but he’s also a dangerous man when crossed. Just take a look at what happens to Flood when he meets up with Jones and a hunk of wood.

Audie Murphy & Barry Sullivan in Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960)
Audie Murphy & Barry Sullivan

Moreover, Murphy is the kind of actor I watch closely because he tends to communicate a great deal with body language; I feel that some critics mistake Murphy’s style, emphasizing subtlety over showiness, as not being good acting. Murphy could more than hold his own opposite the best in the business, including Sullivan and McIntire in this picture, and is compelling at all times.

In contrast to the “business” side of his persona, Jones is awkward and tongue-tied around pretty young Joy (Venetia Stevenson), whose mother (Mary Field) runs a boarding house, but despite that Joy is drawn to Jones like a fly to honey. There’s a cute scene where Joy communicates her interest in Jones, repeatedly attributing her feelings and concerns to her mother, but it’s clear what’s meant and that Jones reciprocates.

Audie Murphy & Venetia Stevenson in Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960)
Audie Murphy & Venetia Stevenson

Stevenson and Murphy are said by some sources to have begun an offscreen affair after meeting on this film. Stevenson was born into the business — her father was director Robert Stevenson and her mother actress Anna Lee (Fort Apache); she had previously been briefly married to Russ Tamblyn, and she would later marry Don Everly of the Everly Bros. She had recently appeared in another notable Western, Day of the Outlaw (1959), which I wrote about here in 2018.

Jones has little time to get to know Joy due to his assignment to bring in Flood, and the chase for the bad man ensues, over locations in Utah and Nevada, filmed in widescreen by Ellis Carter.

Sullivan’s smart, funny, and slightly regretful outlaw calls to mind not only Duryea’s earlier role opposite Murphy, but some of the best villains from the “Ranown” Westerns directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott; Sullivan’s Flood is a character on a par with Ranown villains such as Lee Marvin from Seven Men From Now (1956) — the title similarity is interesting! — and Richard Boone in The Tall T (1957).

Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960) Audie Murphy
Audie

Sullivan excelled at playing this type of rogue; one of his best previous parts was as an accused criminal in the Western Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957), where his character proves to have more common sense and courage than some of the ostensible “good guys.”

In this film, Sullivan’s Flood tries to lure Jones to hitting the trail with him, but he’s also clearly not surprised that Jones remains an upright man of the law. Flood ends up taking Jones’s side against the foes they meet along the trail, and when the time comes for the ultimate reckoning, Flood tips the scales in the favor of Jones, a man he’s come to respect.

The excellent cast includes familiar Western faces such as Ken Lynch and Don Haggerty. It was the second film for Don Collier, who got into films after working on a ranch owned by actor Francis Lederer; Collier’s best-known role was playing Sam, the ranch foreman on TV’s The High Chaparral (1967-71). Little Teddy Rooney, who appears in a couple of scenes midway into the film, was the son of Mickey Rooney and Martha Vickers.

Audie Murphy & Barry Sullivan in Seven Ways Fron Sundown (1960)
Audie Murphy & Barry Sullivan

Seven Ways From Sundown was directed by Harry Keller, whose previous Westerns included a strong Fred MacMurray film, Quantez (1957); Keller later directed Murphy in another Western, Six Black Horses (1962). Keller does a good job balancing brisk pacing with revealing character moments and some excellent bits of action.

Like so many Audie Murphy Westerns, Seven Ways From Sundown has yet to have a U.S. Region 1 DVD or Blu-ray release, though it’s available on a Region 2 release in Europe. The film turns up periodically on cable TV and is well worth seeking out. I hope readers who are unfamiliar with this Western will enjoy it, and I’d love to hear about additional favorite Audie Murphy Westerns in the comments!

— Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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10 Responses to Western RoundUp: Seven Ways From Sundown (1960)

  1. Bud Callahan says:

    He was good in the Burt Lancaster & Audrey Hepburn “The Unforgiven”. A not so pleasant brother!!

  2. Laura Grieve says:

    THE UNFORGIVEN is a Murphy film I still look forward to seeing for the first time!

    Thanks for reading,
    Laura

  3. Jerry Entract says:

    I like the idea of a full review of just one film this time, Laura. And it’s a good ‘un, what is more! Undoubtedly one of Audie’s best later films but actually one of his best per se. Harry Keller might be described as a ‘workmanlike’ director but he certainly knew his way around a western – his earliest efforts were directing Rocky Lane and Rex Allen westerns for Republic.
    I totally agree with you that Audie held his own alongside such fine actors as Barry Sullivan and John McIntire. The more one watches Audie (and I have been for decades!!) the more one is struck how good he was in these films.
    One of his that I particularly like is “GUNSMOKE” from his earlier career (1953) – a really well-made, solid western IMO.
    By the way, I am so glad you make mention of Don Collier, an ‘unshowy’ actor that I have always liked since he starred in 50 episodes of his own series, “OUTLAWS” in 1960-61 as Marshal Will Foreman before his supporting role as Sam. Sadly, that TV series remains unrestored and unreleased still though it is certainly not ‘lost’ (I have all 50 episodes on disc!).

  4. Walter says:

    Laura, I really enjoyed reading your good write-up on one of my favorite Audie Murphy Westerns SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN(1960). I also have a soft place for this movie because it was written by one of my favorite Western writers, Clair Huffaker. Huffaker wrote the novels and screenplays for both SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN(1959) and POSSE FROM HELL(1958), both were Audie Murphy Westerns filmed in 1960 with the latter released in 1961. In the novel SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN the Texas Ranger was named Smith instead of Jones. Why the last name was changed, who knows? Clair Huffaker wrote traditional Western novels with a twist or two, which make them interesting to read. In my opinion his best novel was THE COWBOY AND THE COSSACK(1973) a stirring inspirational story of the West meets the East in 1880 Siberia. The novel is also wonderfully illustrated by artist Brad Holland. I recommend it highly. It is a shame that a movie has never been made from this classic novel.

    Audie Murphy is a good natural actor and I so agree with you concerning his use of body language. Another one in which your eyes can’t leave Audie is NO NAME ON THE BULLET(filmed 1958, released 1959).

    I look forward to your next “Western RoundUp” column.

  5. Great article on a favourite film of mine.

    The more I watch Audie Murphy, the more I appreciate the talent he nourished at Universal. When I was a kid I simply thought of him as “the good guy”, and that was good enough for me.

    I get a feeling of unease watching Sullivan’s villain in this piece. I am so taken in by his charming side while knowing the danger he represents.

  6. Patrick says:

    This was great,Laura…….we both reviewed fims with Kenneth Tobey in them and you mention Richard Boone of which I named the cheetah (my co-reviewer) Paladin after.
    I think Audie Murphy was a fine actor and he more then held his own on screen. You’re right,he does come across as dangerous onscreen but I think that had more to do with his combat experience then him channeling any of character’s traits. With that to draw upon,who needs to “act”,right? Great writing.

  7. Parick Leonard says:

    Another great Audie Murphy film is “Cast a Long Shadow” with John Dehner. It also has a surprisingly risque line of dialog early in the film when a saloon girl standing behind Murphy who is playing cards tells him “Mama always said “Lay ’em down and spread out”

  8. Laura Grieve says:

    Hi Jerry! I’m so glad you enjoyed the review. I’m glad to have additional advocates for Audie’s acting from you and everyone below. (GUNSMOKE is one of my favorites! Also THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK.) Wonderful info on Don Collier’s series, I’m completely unfamiliar with it!

    Walter, thank you so much! Always great to hear from you and I love the added info on Clair Huffaker about whom I know very little. NO NAME ON THE BULLET is another Audie favorite I’ve been wanting to watch again soon.

    Patricia, thank you so much!! Audie Murphy has brought so many of us great pleasure. As has Barry Sullivan! I’m glad I still have some of their films to watch for the first time.

    Patrick, thank you so much! Kenneth Tobey is someone I’ve come to appreciate too, especially since I finally caught up with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD a few years ago.

    I have CAST A LONG SHADOW in my viewing stack but haven’t seen it yet!

    Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this and share your comments, it’s greatly appreciated and I hope the tips in your comments will inspire more great viewing for other Western fans!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  9. I just stumbled upon this one tonight, Laura, while performing one of my frequent searches for westerns, and I really enjoyed it! Interestingly, I’d intended for it just to be on as background entertainment while I worked on a blog post, but I found myself drawn in, and after about 15 minutes, I was hooked. Enjoyed your write-up!

  10. Laura Grieve says:

    Hi Karen! Love hearing you discovered this one and am delighted it grabbed your attention so well. I’m really enjoying your first-time responses to some great Westerns — thank you for taking the time to read my piece and share your thoughts!

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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