John Ford – 7 Women (1966)

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Plot
John Ford’s final film is set in China in 1935, where a group of American women, led by Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton), work as missionaries. One of the women, Florrie (Betty Field), is pregnant and accompanied by her husband, Charles (Eddie Albert), while the others are single and on their own. The mission has become crowded after a cholera epidemic forced several outsiders to flee a nearby British mission and seek shelter with the American group, while a Mongol warrior, Tunga Khan (Mike Mazurki), has assembled troops who are sacking the area. When a female doctor, Dr. D.L. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft), enters the picture, she attempts to bring humor and civility to the group, but her tough yet compassionate nature clashes with Agatha’s by-the-book approach, and when Cartwright is willing to put her own safety at risk to gain the attentions of Tunga Khan and slow his onslaught, the group is strongly divided — most of the women admire the doctor’s bravery, but Agatha (who seems to have a non-professional interest in Cartwright herself) considers her foolish and reckless. Seven Women was originally planned to star Patricia Neal as Dr. Cartwright, but when she suffered a stroke during filming that put her acting career on hold for several years, Anne Bancroft was recast in the role. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide




Review
Critically dismissed upon its first release, Seven Women has developed a small band of supporters who find it worthy of re-examination. It’s hard to deny that there are a number of things about Women that deserve praise. First and foremost are the contributions of its cast, especially the oil-and-water performances of stars Anne Bancroft and Margaret Leighton. Leighton perfectly captures the passively oppressive nature of her character, a straight-laced, by-the-book woman whose rigidity masks a fierce desire that she fears would overwhelm her if released. Bancroft is all aces as her free-spirited, strong willed, and unconventional foil, filling the screen with an overwhelming sense of life from the moment she arrives. Both actresses grab hold of the film and engage in a spirited tussle for control of it; this tension adds much-needed life to the proceedings. The film also features a nice John Ford visual trick, filming the first part with dull, washed-out colors, and unleashing an orgy of color when the Mongols invade. Ford aficionados will also enjoy noticing the ways in which the film both fits into and strays away from his usual themes. Balancing (and to most, overpowering) these assets are a number of deficits, such as a confusing screenplay, some tired dialogue, numerous dead stretches, an unfortunate tendency toward racial caricaturing, and more than a hint of melodrama. On the whole, Women is perhaps best appreciated by fans of Ford’s work who are adventurous and willing to take a chance with one of the master’s least conventional works. ~ Craig Butler, All Movie Guide




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