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Film / 7 Women

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7 Women (also known as Seven Women) is a 1966 drama film directed by John Ford and starring Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon and Margaret Leighton. It was based on the short story "Chinese Finale" by Norah Lofts.

In rural China, in 1935, there is a remote Christian mission post in which all but one of its white residents are women, headed by the strict Miss Agatha Andrews (Leighton). Emma Clark (Lyon) is the only young staff member, whom Miss Andrews treats as if she was her daughter.

The mission is elated to learn that a much-needed doctor is arriving. However, they are shocked to discover that the doctor who is arriving, Dr. Cartwright (Bancroft) is a woman who smokes, drinks, swears, wears pants and short hair, and disdains religion. As a result, she and Miss Andrews are soon at odds.

When rumors of atrocities committed by the militia of Mongolian warlord Tunga Khan (Mike Mazurki) reach the mission, Miss Andrews is at first certain that the mission will be safe, but it soon becomes clear that the women will have to protect themselves from the advances of the barbaric Mongol bandits.

This was the last feature film directed by Ford, ending a career that spanned five decades. Elmer Bernstein composed the score.

This film features examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Dr. Cartwright is sloshed most of the time. At one point, tired of the mission women looking down on her, she shows up drunk in the mission's dining room with a bottle of whiskey, and tries to make all the pious women drink as well.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Miss Andrews. As the film progresses, her claims of wanting to take care of Emma (played by Sue Lyon, Lolita herself) sound less like a mother-daughter relationship and more of a not-even-trying-to-be-ambiguous but still heavily repressed lesbian with a giant crush on Emma.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The bottle Dr. Cartwright identifies as containing poison reappears when Miss Argent sees Cartwright hiding it, eventually using it to kill Tunga Khan and herself.
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Cartwright certainly does not make a good impression with the mission due to her brash attitude (with the exception of Emma), but is still a skilled professional.
  • Get Out!: Miss Andrews yells this when throwing Dr. Cartwright out of her office, when Dr. Cartwright suggests that Miss Andrews won't pay to have a pregnant Florrie Pether sent away because Miss Andrews disapproves of sexual activity in general.
  • Glasses Pull: Miss Andrews does this before delivering her forceful Get Out! to Dr. Cartwright.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Dr. Cartwright makes two. First, she agrees to have sex with Tunga Khan in exchange for her medical instruments, and then stays behind while the others safely away to poison Tunga Khan before committing suicide herself.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Dr. Cartwright, an atheist doctor working in a religious mission. The film makes the religious characters deeply unsympathetic while Dr. Cartwright is presented as a Distaff Counterpart to John Wayne's usual roles in John Ford films. In the film her atheism doesn't really provide any personal baggage for her and it's simply presented as normal while emphasizing and respecting her humanism. John Ford explained her simply:
    John Ford: She was a doctor—her object in life was to save people. She was a woman who had no religion, but she got in with this bunch of kooks and started acting like a human being.
  • Hollywood Costuming: While Dr. Cartwright's hairstyle is noted in-universe as highly unusual (in that her short hair is among the things that scandalizes the mission), it is still cleary done in a 1960s style that is out of place in the story set in 1935.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: The film is about as clear as a 1966 movie can be about Miss Andrews being a deeply closeted lesbian who is strongly attracted to beautiful young Emma. In their first scene together Miss Andrews enters Emma's room, sees her in a slip changing clothes, and is very obviously taken aback. Then she can't stop herself from touching Emma's hair, supposedly to adjust it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: While Dr. Cartwright can come off as abrasive, it's clear that deep down she cares about the well-being of people through her job, and ultimately ends up sacrificing herself to free the women from the Mongols and kill Tunga Khan.
  • Kimono Fanservice: An extremely dark example. Dr. Cartwright is shown in a kimono after she has accepted the Scarpia Ultimatum and become Tunga Khan's concubine in order to save the others.
  • Neck Lift: Tunga Khan does this to his lieutenant, the nameless warrior played by Woody Strode, right before...
  • Neck Snap: ...Tunga Khan snaps the nameless warrior's neck. Tunga seems to regard Woody Strode's character as a rival.
  • The Lad-ette: Dr. Cartwright, an atheist doctor alcoholic who is also a Boisterous Bruiser and is presented as a Distaff Counterpart to John Wayne's usual characters.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Dr. Cartwright has one after Tunga Khan drinks from the cup she handed him, which unbeknownst to him she poisoned.
    Dr. Cartwright: So long, ya bastard.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: When Florrie goes into labor, Tunga Khan offers to give Dr. Cartwright her medical instruments in exchange for her sexual submission to him, to which the doctor sees no other option but to agree.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Hinted at with Mrs. Russell of the British mission, who seems a little too fixated on the shirtless Mongolian warriors who are fighting and wrestling right outside the window.
    Mrs. Russell: Oh, it's awful! They're all naked and yellow! What a revolting sight!
    Miss Binns: Then why do you watch?
  • Sexual Extortion: Tunga Khan demands that Dr. Cartwright be his concubine in return for her medical bag (to deliver Florrie's baby) and, later, milk for the baby and food for the other captives. She complies.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Dr. Cartwright has already established a macho, assertive attitude upon her arrival at the mission, but she further differentiates herself from all the proper Christians around her when she takes a long drag on a cigarette at dinner and blows a plume of smoke.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: After Cartwright is forced by Tunga Khan to have sex with him in exchange for her medical instruments, an increasingly deranged Andrews vilifies her, calling her "whore of Babylon". The others, however, understand the sacrifice the doctor has made and why.
  • Yellowface: While most of the locals are played by actual Chinese, Mongol warlord Tunga Khan and his nameless warrior sidekick are played by a white man (Mike Mazurski) and a black man (Woody Strode) in heavy yellowface.