Legendary director John Ford's final film involving seven dedicated missionary women in China circa 1935 trying to protect themselves from the advances of a Mongolian barbaric warlord and his cut-throat gang of warriors.
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In a mission in China in 1935, Agatha Andrews is a rigid missionary beset by Mongolian bandits led by Warlord chief Tunga Khan. With her are her assistant Jane Argent, staff members Emma Clark, Miss Russell and Miss Binns, head of the British mission, Charles Pather, a teacher at the mission and his pregnant wife Florrie. When Dr. D.R. Cartwright arrives, she agrees to sacrifice herself to the Tunga Khan in exchange for his letting the ladies go free. Written by
Dr. D.R. Cartwright:
Normal? What the hell is so normal about my life? It took me eight years to become a doctor; I gave everything up to study. And for what? Anything I could get. There are no tough jobs for women doctors. I couldn't even open a decent office; I had to sweat it out in the worst hospitals. And when I finally gave myself a little time, for a little love, I wound up pickin' the wrong guy. What do ya think of that, Binnsy? Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. But for keeps he preferred his wife.
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...what a moving last picture for Ford's swansong.Too often underrated ,"Seven woman" in spite of a sometimes weak script-too many things happen in too little time- is perhaps the most modern film in Ford 's canon.
We find one of Ford's permanent features:a group of human beings in jeopardy who's got to struggle against an enemy:"Stagecoach" is the best example .Dudley Nichols's screenplay was inspired by Guy de Maupasssant's "Boule de Suif".
Women always played a prominent part in Ford's canon.Ford's world is deceptive :it seems to be a male world but actually women are the strongest and the wisest (Jane Darwell's character in "Wagon Master" ,the soldiers' wives in "Fort Appache" ).It was only natural that Ford's last movie was an all-women film (all men,including Albert's character are caricatures.) And these women are very endearing.Anne Bancroft,one of the greatest actresses America ever had, shines all along the movie ,and even when the script verges on grotesque ,she's still beaming, fascinating ,never losing her sense of humor.Even when she "becomes Chinese" ,nobody would think of laughing at her.She's so strong an actress that we seem to know her heroine intimately,her life in NYC people dispensaries,her sad love stories.With her masculine swagger,her boots ,her cigarettes and her whiskey we see a broken woman who has lost all her illusions.She's an atheist,which is very rare in Ford's canon.
Religion is in the center of many a Ford movie ."Seven Women" takes place in a mission .All these women put their faith in God and ...in America (We're American citizens!).One of them (Margaret Leighton) is particularly interesting : a tight-lipped puritan at the beginning of the movie,she becomes,slowly but inexorably ,a mystic lunatic,mentioning Babylon and sinners.Like "Stagecoach" ,"seven femmes " borrows from Maupassant.Like his heroine,"Boule De suif" Cartwright gives her life in sacrifice so the others can survive.
Six Woman are leaving Sodom under an ominous sky :one of them is screaming about lust while the blonde schoolteacher (Sue Lyon,whose role is an equivalent of Caroll Baker's in "Cheyenne Autumn ,though it's an underwritten part ),along with the newborn child, represents hope for the future:all that she went through ,her late heroine (she was the only one to be nice with Cartwright when she arrived)might help her to carry on.But Ford's last opus,like Huston's "the dead" is a very pessimistic opus.
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