The two masterpieces that define John Ford’s later period – The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – are pictures concerned with the futility of violence, with the pair serving as weary ripostes to the classical western aesthetic epitomised by American exceptionalism.
In 7 Women – the director’s final film – the frontier has moved to the east, to China in 1935, where a Christian missionary post becomes targeted by a group of local bandits.
It’s a subversive twist on the Ford western, acknowledging the end of the genre’s heyday while adapting many of its key facets to a new locale and, crucially, to a new type of gunslinger in Anne Bancroft’s salty, chain-smoking missionary – an unlikely Fordian heroine.
With its fury and urgency, it feels less like a swansong and more like the work of a director given a new lease of life.
Dr D.R. Cartwright