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
John Ford's swan song is very underrated. Anne Bancroft plays a chain-smoking doctor who has fled the United States (for reasons unknown, unless they were explained during the minute or so I was away to answer the phone) to work at a mission in China. Margaret Leighton plays the head of this mission, a devout Christian who controls her underlings with strict rules. Various troubles ensue, the most prominent being the threat of a cholera epidemic, a raid by Mongolian bandits, and a pregnant woman who is nearing menopause, which makes the birth a very difficult situation. It is the second problem which I mention that takes up most of the plot. The mission has heard stories of these Mongolians in the nearby areas. Leighton is sure that they will never dare attack her mission, by the grace of God and America. But they do, and they keep all the white women hostage after killing off every Chinese person in sight. They believe that they can win a ransom for them. The tough Bancroft bravely opposes them, but she can make no headway by those means. Instead, the leader of the bandits demands sex. In this way, she is able to influence the way the women are treated (especially concerning the birth). The main conflict of the film is between Leighton and Bancroft. It's very 60s, with the progressive, liberated woman fighting against the strict, sexless one. The role of religion is very interesting in the film. It's shocking that Ford, a devout Catholic, would make the headmistress so foolish. It's a very intelligent criticism of the holier-than-thou attitude of some. When death looks imminent, Leighton seems almost excited to become a martyr; and she's willing and ready to take everyone else with her. When Bancroft sees her chance to save the others, Leighton viciously attacks her for being the "whore of Babylon." The final scene is quite excellent. What a great way for the greatest director of all time end his career.
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