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7 Women (1966)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

7 Women (1966) (aka Seven Women)

In director John Ford's female-centric MGM drama - his last feature film (obscure and mis-appreciated) and a box-office failure, with the taglines: "Love-Lust Courage and Cowardice Faith-Fury and Sacrifice!", and "Seven Who Defied What No Man Dared, Each for a Reason that Was Hers - Alone!":

  • the setting: rural northern China in 1935, at a remote Christian missionary outpost and clinic staffed almost entirely by women (four at first):
    - Miss Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton), the strict, rigidly-pious, repressed, self-righteous, close-minded, and puritanical head principal of the mission; also lesbian-leaning
    - Miss Jane Argent (Mildred Dunnock), Miss Andrews' obedient, spinsterish assistant
    - Emma Clark (Sue Lyon), a young, blonde, demure, pretty, and impressionable mission worker, inexperienced about life
    - Florrie Pether (Betty Field), the middle-aged, nervous, pregnant wife of mousy mission teacher husband Charles Pether (Eddie Albert), a momma's boy
  • the entrance scene of Dr. D.R. Cartwright (Anne Bancroft) through the mission's gates - the newly-arrived American doctor from NY, on horseback, who turned to reveal that she was an emancipated, secular female - short-haired and slightly manly (and androgynous), wearing pants and brown leather jacket and hat; also she was a chain-smoker, drinker, profanity-spewer, possibly atheist (definitely anti-religious), independent minded, and not used to saying grace at meals
  • the scene of Dr. Cartwright's free-thinking dining room lecture, when she entered late carrying a bottle of alcohol, and pounded it onto the table: "What you all need is a good - stiff - drink!...Oh, come on, Agatha. It's good Scotch whiskey. It would do us all a world of good"; furthermore, she described her poor career and heartbreaking personal choices (in a world of injustice) to everyone seated at the table: "Normal? What the hell is so normal about my life? It took me eight years to become a doctor; I gave everything up to study. And for what? Anything I could get. There are no tough jobs for women doctors. I couldn't even open a decent office; I had to sweat it out in the worst hospitals. And when I finally gave myself a little time, for a little love, I wound up pickin' the wrong guy. What do ya think of that, Binnsy? Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. But for keeps, he preferred his wife. So what's normal about that? As a matter of fact, what the hell is so normal about any one of us nuts sittin' at this table?"; she also offered advice to young Emma: "You know, Emma, you're the only one that still has a chance. There's a real world outside. Get out of this rat-race; go and find it"
  • the build-up of conflict between the very unwelcomed Dr. Cartwright and the authoritarian and unyielding Andrews, and their competition to influence Emma and gain her support; Agatha cautioned Emma about Cartwright's different, spiritually-dead and 'evil' nature: "Smoking? Sitting before grace? Using profane words? You call that interesting? I can see you're a young, inexperienced girl. There's something exciting about her. But morally, spiritually, she's dead....The difference is the evil in her"
  • the emergency arrival of three additional women: British survivors of a Mongolian warlord attack: Miss Binns (Flora Robson), Mrs. Russell (Anna Lee), and Chinese-born Miss Ling (Jane Chang), a mission teacher and translator
  • the difficult conditions surrounding Cartwright's supervision of a cholera epidemic, necessitating a quarantine, burning infected clothing, long hours of treating the afflicted, and burying the dead
  • the ominous approach of lawless, warlord chieftain Tunga Khan (Mike Mazurki) and his gun-wielding militia of marauding barbaric bandits, who symbolically announced their imminent arrival by the glow on the horizon of a burned-down town
  • the deadly entry of Khan's group, signaled by a honking car horn, through the mission gates, to take over the mission, and the dramatic lethal shooting of Kim (Hans William Lee), the head of the mission's male labor force, in front of everyone; Kim had just described the murder of heroic-acting and tragically brave Charles who had tried to prevent a rape; the outlaws then executed all of the Chinese in the mission (including women and children)
  • the self-sacrificial choice of the stoic and fearless Dr. Cartwright (called "the whore of Babylon" by Andrews during a temper tantrum) to offer herself up as sexual "ransom", in order to negotiate for and receive better treatment and provisions for all, including Florrie's newly-arriving baby
  • the internal power struggle over Dr. Cartwright between Khan and his "lean" lieutenant Warrior (Woody Strode), culminating in a wrestling duel-match between the two bare-chested fighters - and the brutal breaking of the Warrior's neck by Khan during the hand-to-hand combat as the nighttime's entertainment
  • the final grim sequence of Dr. Cartwright agreeing to sell herself permanently to Khan as his subservient concubine, in order to free the other 'seven women' - she dressed in the exotic costume of a Chinese geisha/courtesan, and then glided through the mission's central dark corridor into the presence of her captive master Khan's bedroom, with a bottle of powdered poison tucked in her waist sash; she secretly poisoned two water cups, then bowed in mock submission and defiant subservience as she presented him with one of the tainted cups - she toasted him as they clinked cups: "So long, ya bastard!"; he soon fell forward, dead, next to her; then, she also drank from her cup, angrily threw it to the ground where it smashed into pieces, and leaned back to approach death herself - as the film slowly faded to black and ended


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