11 June 2005 | stevehulett
Under-rated Swan Song
"Seven Women" is the last feature film of John Ford, arguably the greatest director the United States has yet produced. After a half century of film making, Ford ended his fabled career with a wide screen feature about women in peril at a Chinese mission. Infirm and alcoholic, he filmed it on an MGM sound stage; MGM then cut it and tossed it away on the bottom half of a double bill.
Today, the film is little known and seldom seen. It is far from Ford's best work, yet there is power and believability in many of the lead performances, and power in the arc of the story. Anne Bancroft shines as a feisty New York doctor who ultimately sacrifices herself to save the other missionaries -- many whom she doesn't agree with -- from brutal deaths at the hands of Chinese bandits. Her work here is more forceful and better realized than her role of Mrs. Robinson, done two years later.
The best gift MGM/Sony could give lovers of serious cinema is a clean print of this forgotten film. Its sets are often glaringly artificial, and some of the secondary players are over the top (an old weakness of Ford's) as well as miscast, but "7W" is a far better film than Hollywood legend has told us.