7 Women (John Ford, 1966)
Of the bunch of John Ford films that I've seen, a total of sixteen, I tend to prefer the tone of his non-Westerns because it takes him out of his "comfort zone" of the American myth and get him into the world of the likes of Tom Joad, Ireland, and in this case Northern China. Ford's final film to the silver screen was 7 Women, a lesser known entry in his oeuvre that was much more celebrated in Europe especially in France with Les Cahiers du Cinema highly praising it and its auteur. While being a catastrophic commercial and critical event in North America it forced him to retire from film making.
This being his last picture in 1966, the Film industry was on the eve of one of its greatest revolutions with the coming of Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Riders, and the revitalization of the 1970's that let much more space for the director as the creative force of the movie they are directing. One could say that it was a more European approach to the seventh art. But I digress, Ford was working with smaller budgets and less freedom over his work during the shooting of his last films.
However he managed to have a script that was carrying many elements that were dear to him when telling a story. The Catholic mission being the setting of the story, the dedication to a moral duty by the women, the hard headed Dr. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft) that represents contrarity in this balanced world by the strong and very strict Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton), the head of the mission, the younger of the women, Emma (Sue Lyon), looking for a role model and flinching between the two "mothers" aforementioned. Are the most forefront characters of this almost entirely female cast. Except for Charles Pether (Eddie Albert) the mission teacher that dreamed to be a reverend and that brought along his middle aged pregnant wife in this far country.
Much like his position on racism that he tries to finally solve with Cheyenne Autumn, 7 Women seems to be his redemption with his projection of the Woman in society. While in his Westerns they are more related to supporting roles. With this film, he makes them the stars of his swan song. This is almost unexpected but also very revealing of the aging master's late redemption with his earlier detractors.
The film has this Fordian dilemma between moral values and moral dedication, it also shows much like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance how words don't compensate for actions. He also believes in the theory of every one's role in a closeted society.
When talking about Catholicism, there's a great debate about the level of sacrifice and how one must sin to achieve to help others. No human is a Saint until he dies. This is illustrated in many ways by the most human characters of the movie but also the negative aspects of the purist spirit that put into the action are completely wasted.
This is an intriguing and also quite enjoyable entry into Ford's filmography even if more than far from his habitual films. The presence of The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) and Lolita's Lolita (Sue Lyon) also brings an interesting aspect because they were actress not remembered for many roles.
This might appeal more to John Ford enthusiasts, sure because its unique but also because it brings an important aspect of the director and the man sitting in this chair.