|Ann Bancroft in one of her finest roles|
I wonder what feminists feel about this film. In my view, this is a fascinating look at women by a male director, an effort that can compare with two other works: Paul Mazursky's The Unmarried Woman and Muzaffar Ali's Umrao Jaan. In 7 women, strong women, weak women, lesbians, and immature girls, are contrasted with cardboard male characters that are never fully developed and are obviously no match to the array of women portrayed in the film. The men are painted so negatively that one begins to wonder if Ford thought Asian men had more brawn than brain--a strange view that has gained currency in Hollywood cinema.
I applaud Ford's decision to cast Anne Bancroft in the leading role. This is one of her strong performances. She makes even the most vapid films look elegant with her roles (Lipstick, Little Nikita, to name just two). Ford develops her role on the lines of a Western gunslinger--only there are no gunfights. The woman has a weapon: sex. That weapon can down all the bad guys faster than it takes to down Mexicans, Red Indians, rustlers, bankrobbers, et al. In 7 Women these bad men are Chinese/ Mongolian thugs. Established actresses Dame Flora Robson and Margaret Leighton are totally eclipsed by Bancroft's rivetting role.
What Ford wanted I guess was to stun the viewer with the ending--the twist to the gradual softening of the Bancroft in men's clothes to the Bancroft in women's clothes and the acceptance male superiority. Most critics have found the end facile but I found the end powerful as it makes you review and reconsider all the preceding information on the lead character.
The film questions commonly held views on religion; evidently Ford was old enough to have seen enough to choose to make this film in the evening of his life. In his films, Ford's women are as interesting as any other aspect of his cinema and this film provides ample fodder for those interested in studying that element of Ford's cinema.
However, for a 1966 film, the studio sets for the film look too artificial for the serious cinema the film offers. Despite all the flaws, the film provides ample scope for reflection.