It's a shame that John Ford's final picture had to be less than satisfying, but even adequate Ford is better than most efforts. Patricia Neal was to play the lead and shooting began with her. However, when she suffered her strokes, Bancroft replaced her and those scenes were re-shot. The
plot is unusual for Ford, who made his reputation filming macho male films. Going far afield from the Old West, Ford must have wanted to show that after 48 years behind the lense, he could direct a film about women. The picture takes place in China in 1935. Mazurki, a Mongolian warlord, is
pillaging the area near the China-Mongolia border. (The Austrian-born Mazurki had portrayed a ju-jitsu expert in BEHIND THE RISING SUN 17 years before.) Leighton, a repressed lesbian who lives by the rules and is hard as granite, runs the American religious mission in the area. She is assisted by
young Lyon and Dunnock, as well as Field, a nervous, pregnant woman, whose husband, Albert, is also a member of the group. When Bancroft, a physician, joins the mission staff, she and Leighton immediately clash. Bancroft's character is loose, easy-going, and a trifle cynical, while Leighton is as
flexible as ebony. The two women can't seem to agree on anything. Chaos erupts when Robson and other cholera victims come over from the nearby British mission. Field is due to give birth and needs to go to a hospital, but Leighton won't give her the necessary money for professional care. The
mission is being guarded by Chinese soldiers, but when they leave, the place becomes vulnerable to Mazurki and his men. Albert attempts to get help and is killed. Just as Field begins her labor, Mazurki and his hordes crash into the compound. Bancroft successfully delivers Field's child. Then, she
seduces Mazurki, and once he is under her spell, lures him into making some concessions to the other unprotected women and children. Leighton, who may be harboring designs on Bancroft herself, is outraged by the way Bancroft has used her wiles on Mazurki and lets her know it in no uncertain terms.
However, the other women realize that Bancroft has sacrificed her morals in order to keep them alive. Using all her charms, Bancroft gets Mazurki to escort the rest of the women and children to safety. When he returns, Bancroft asks him to drink a toast to their new-found relationship. But, the
Mongol doesn't know that Bancroft has poisoned the wine and the two of them will soon die.
There are some good character portrayals in this film, especially Leighton, whose suppressed sexuality burns on the screen. Bancroft is excellent as the world-weary and resigned physician who sacrifices herself for others. The picture's major drawback is that the women of the mission are so
concerned with their own soap opera stories, the audience loses sight of the fact that they are missionary teachers. Ford used an interesting technique for the first part of the film; he shot it in dull, muted tones to emphasize the quiet lives these people were leading. Only when Mazurki bursts
in, wearing red and gold, does color invade the screen. Lots of violence and heavy religious overtones make this film unsuitable for youngsters and often incomprehensible for adults. Ford had begun his directorial career in 1917 and is credited with directing some 125 features, 60 of the sound
films, beginning with THE BLACK WATCH in 1929. After completing this picture, he went into retirement where he remained until his death in 1973.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: It's a shame that John Ford's final picture had to be less than satisfying, but even adequate Ford is better than most efforts. Patricia Neal was to play the lead and shooting began with her. However, when she suffered her strokes, Bancroft replaced her an… (more)