|Directed by||John Ford|
|Written by||Janet Green|
|Based on||"Chinese Finale" |
1935 short story
by Norah Lofts
|Produced by||Bernard Smith|
|Edited by||Otho Lovering|
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
7 Women, also known as Seven Women, is a 1966 Panavision drama film directed by John Ford and starring Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton, Flora Robson, Mildred Dunnock, Betty Field, and Anna Lee, with Eddie Albert, Mike Mazurki, and Woody Strode. Made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, it was produced by Bernard Smith and John Ford, from a screenplay by Janet Green and John McCormick, based on the short story "Chinese Finale" by Norah Lofts. The music score was by Elmer Bernstein and the cinematography by Joseph LaShelle. This was the last feature film directed by Ford, ending a career that spanned 53 years.
In rural China, in 1935, all but one of the white residents of a remote Christian mission post are women. The strict Miss Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton) is the head of the mission, assisted by the meek Miss Argent (Mildred Dunnock). Charles Pether (Eddie Albert) is a mission teacher who always wanted to be a pastor; his peevish, panicky, self-centered and domineering middle-aged wife Florrie (Betty Field) is pregnant for the first time. Emma Clark (Sue Lyon) is the only young staff member, whom Miss Andrews treats as if she were her daughter.
The mission is elated to learn that a much-needed doctor is arriving, but they are shocked to discover that Dr. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft) is a Chicago woman who smokes, drinks alcohol, swears, wears pants, has short hair, disdains religion and sits before grace. Miss Andrews and she are soon at odds. Emma, who has led a very sheltered life, is fascinated by the newcomer, much to Miss Andrews' dismay.
After she has settled in, Dr. Cartwright urges Miss Andrews to provide money to send Florrie Pether to a modern facility, as her age means that giving birth is high risk, but Andrews refuses.
Meanwhile, rumors arise of atrocities committed by the militia of Mongolian warlord Tunga Khan (Mike Mazurki). Miss Andrews is certain that the mission will be safe, as they are American citizens. After a nearby, even poorer British mission is sacked by Tunga Khan, Miss Andrews reluctantly accepts survivors Miss Binns (Flora Robson), Mrs. Russell (Anna Lee), and Miss Ling (Jane Chang), but only for a short time, as she is unwilling to harbor those of any other denomination for long.
Immediately after the arrival of the survivors, a cholera outbreak erupts. Dr. Cartwright quickly takes command, treating all the Chinese of the area. Miss Andrews's initial hostility to her subsides when Emma gets sick and she implores Dr. Cartwright to save her life. After the emergency is over and Emma is well again, the relationship between Andrews and Cartwright starts to soften. but deteriorates when Cartwright shows up drunk in the dining room with a bottle of whiskey, and tries to make all the pious women drink, as well.
One night, Charles and Cartwright see a fire on the horizon and hear gunfire. The next morning, the Chinese soldiers of the nearby garrison evacuate in a hurry, as Tunga Khan and his men are believed to be approaching. Miss Andrews is still convinced the mission is untouchable, but Charles is now determined to be assertive. Kim, an English-speaking male Chinese mission staff member, and he drive out to investigate the situation, while urging everyone else to be prepared to leave the mission, despite Miss Andrews's opposition. After a while, they hear the car's horn, but once the gate is opened, bandits on horseback charge in, firing their guns, and quickly take over the mission. Before being executed by the bandits, Kim tells the women Charles was murdered when he tried to rescue a woman being assaulted by Tunga Khan's men. Then Miss Ling, coming from a powerful Mandarin family, is taken away to act as Tunga Khan's young wife's servant, while the seven white women are herded into a shed.
They watch as Tunga Khan has every Chinese in the mission executed, women and children included, to Emma's shock. Tunga Khan comes into the shed and tries to take Emma. Realizing that they are mostly American women, he decides to ask for a ransom.
With Miss Andrews panicking and Florrie in labor, Dr. Cartwright asks for her desperately needed medical bag. Tunga Khan offers to exchange it for her sexual submission to him. The doctor agrees, and helps Florrie give birth to a baby boy. After Cartwright goes to fulfill her end of the bargain, an increasingly deranged Andrews vilifies her, calling her "whore of Babylon". The others, however, understand the sacrifice the doctor has made and why.
In the evening, the Mongols gather in a circle and organize wrestling matches for entertainment, with Dr. Cartwright watching the spectacle at Tunga Khan's side, as his new concubine. When the lean warrior (Woody Strode), who had been ogling Cartwright all evening, steps into the ring to face the winner of a bout, Tunga Khan insists on accepting the challenge himself and breaks the man's neck.
Cartwright manages to convince Tunga Khan to let the other women go, including Miss Ling. Before Miss Argent leaves, she sees the doctor hide a bottle that she had earlier called poison. She urges Cartwright not to do what she is planning, but to no avail. With the others safely away, Cartwright, now in a geisha outfit, goes to Tunga Khan's room and secretly poisons two drinks. She subserviently offers a cup to Tunga Khan, as she utters, "So long, ya bastard." After Tunga Khan drinks, he immediately keels over dead. Then, after a moment's hesitation, Cartwright drinks from the second cup.
The film also appeared in several lists:
Cahiers du cinéma voted it the sixth-best film of 1966 and Andrew Sarris rated it the third-best of 1966 (only being beaten by Blow-up and Gertrud).
The film is currently ranked number 784 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? list of the 1000 greatest films of all time. The list is based on a poll of 1,825 film critics, scholars, and cinephiles, as well as a culling of over 900 existing "greatest film" lists.
The original story, "Chinese Finale", was presented as an episode of Alcoa Theatre in March 1960 with Hilda Plowright as Miss Andrews and Jan Sterling as Dr. Mary Cartwright.
John Ford considered both Katharine Hepburn and Jennifer Jones for the role of Dr. Cartwright, and Rosalind Russell lobbied for the part, but eventually Patricia Neal was cast. Ford began the film on 8 February 1965 on the MGM back lot, but after three days of filming, Neal had a stroke. Anne Bancroft took over the role of Dr. Cartwright, but Ford was unhappy with Bancroft and called her "the mistress of monotone". Ford originally considered Carol Lynley for the role played in the film by MGM contract star Sue Lyon, on whom the studio insisted. Shooting finished on April 12, six days behind schedule.
Ford chose Otho Lovering to edit the film; they had first worked together on Stagecoach (1939). Lovering edited most of Ford's feature films in the 1960s.
The film was not released until 1966.
As Ford was a devout Catholic, the film shows the difference between the claim of being moral and the act of morals; the stark contrast between compassion and sacrifice to the austere holier-than-thou philosophy.