7 Women (1966)

29 07 2008

A decent and perfectly harmless movie, but not anything particularly special. There’s a good chance that this is only deemed “relevant” by film cannons because it is John Ford’s last film. In Ford’s defense, it doesn’t even seem like he is attempting to make a remotely serious film. In that sense, it would probably make for a solid double bill with Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar. It’s not as outrightly campy and silly as Ray’s film, but it is a feminist western of sorts. Of course, one will have to make a little logical jump as a film that takes place in China isn’t technically a western, but still, this plays out like one anyway.

Dr. D.R. Cartwright arrives at her newest place of employment, a Christian mission in North China, with several skeptics. Her modern ways clash greatly with that of the stiff, conservative Agatha Andrews, who seemingly runs the mission. Cartwright drinks, swears, and most importantly, doesn’t believe in God. Needless to say, she quickly gets under Andrews’ skin, who intends to fire her in a short time. Her plans are thwarted when the mission is taken over by a Mongolian warlord. On top of everything, Mrs. Pethers, the wife of Charles Pether (the mission’s lone male), goes into labor.

Initially, it is (oddly) amusing to see Ford handle so many atypical themes. As mentioned earlier, this is a film largely centered around women and it takes place in North China of all places. In other words, about as far away as one can get from one of Ford’s usual films. Still, it is pretty much standard Ford affair, which is certainly not a problem with me. It does indeed turn into a western, and even then, it is not up to the standards of, say, Anthony Mann and/or Nicholas Ray. My inexperience with westerns clearly shows here, as this is only the second John Ford film I’ve seen (the other being the great Young Mr. Lincoln) so excuse the ignorance.

With that all said, I’m sure there’s a lot more here that the film can offer, if only on a more contextual level. Since Ford was accused of being racist, and most likely, of being sexist, it is pretty interesting to see what is essentially a reaction to such claims. In some ways, all the feminist content can be seen as somewhat of parody on Ford’s part, which isn’t to say that he is an evil misogynist (nor am I) but just nice to see the whole “I am woman hear me roar” taken down a peg by the complications of real life. Of course, the film isn’t exactly “realistic” but the ending, which is where most of my previous statement is drawn from, is open-ended and perplexing where it could have so easily been hokey.