Margaret Leighton is having a bad day. Image: IMDb

We’ve all done it: We have a brilliant idea, but we fumble the execution of our own ingenuity.

We were ruminating on Squandered Opportunities when we recently watched the Western-themed 7 Women (1966), directed by the legendary John Ford.

Here’s why we wanted to love 7 Women:

  • The story takes place in an exotic country (China) during the 1930s.
  • The mostly female cast was an intriguing choice for director Ford.
  • Like an old-school Western, the women are trapped in a missionary fortress. Will they escape before Mongolian Bad Guys arrive?
  • The cast includes Anne Bancroft, Flora Robson, and Margaret Leighton, among others.

Alas, this is a hollow shell of a film, even though there’s an ending we did Not See Coming.

Anne Bancroft ponders her Options. Image: TCM

7 Women is not, in our opinion, a very good film, and the longer it runs, the worse it seems to get.

This is what we disliked:

The Hair. We didn’t know missionaries living in remote Chinese highlands sported carefully-coiffed 1960s hairstyles.

The Bad Guys. Since non-Asian actors wear heavy eye makeup to look Mongolian, we must assume there were no Asian or Mongolian actors, anywhere, in the mid-1960s.

The One-Dimensional Characters. It’s hard to find a sympathetic character this film, and that’s saying something considering the plight of these people.

The Directing. What happened, John Ford? (More on this later.)

You can probably tell we’re grumpy about this film. The premise is Interesting and Important, but the audience is handed a mess. It feels like the ol’ Bait and Switch.

It’s a shame because there are real gems buried here. For example, look at Jane Chang‘s character, a Chinese woman of wealth and influence. When she’s taken prisoner, the male villains “degrade” her, as the film euphemistically suggests. Chang’s role is pitifully small, but she raises a crucial question: Once the white women escape, what happens to those left behind?

We think the story would be more interesting if told from Chang’s point of view, but that would make it a different film entirely, and MGM was closely monitoring time and money Spent.

Plus the cholera. Image: Film Freedonia

About the directing: 7 Women was John Ford’s final film. He was 71 years old and in declining health. According to biographer Scott Eyman, Ford was physically unable to finish his previous two films.¹

The making of 7 Women was one of those Grin-and-Bear-It projects. Actress Patricia Neal was initially cast as one of the leads, but she suffered a stroke two weeks into filming. Anne Bancroft was hired as a last-minute replacement, and Ford regretted the choice.

He was also annoyed that screenwriters Janet Green and John McCormick were in Paris during filming and unavailable for script changes. “It’s no good,” Ford reportedly said, “but let’s do it and get out.”²

Eyman notes, tellingly, “Once the picture finished production, Ford disappeared, not even bothering to consult with Elmer Bernstein about his music score.”³

The film was not a critical or box office success. It cost about $2.3 million US to make (around $20.5 million today), and it grossed just under $1 million in worldwide ticket sales.

We’re reluctant to recommend 7 Women, even if you’re a John Ford completist or a fan of Westerns. We feel it is a Wasted Opportunity, but there are many who regard it as an underappreciated film.

This post is part of The FOREIGN WESTERN Blogathon, hosted by Moon in Gemini

7 Women: starring Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton. Directed by John Ford. Written by Janet Green & John McCormick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1966, Colour, 87 mins.


¹Eyman, Scott. (1999) Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, p. 519.
²Ibid., p. 521.
³Ibid., p. 524.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

35 Comment on “A Western with 7 Women

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