McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Poster

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Haunting, wintry Western
marissas7520 April 2006
The first thing to know about Robert Altman's revisionist Western "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is that it takes place in Washington state. Typical Westerns are set in arid semi-deserts, full of blazing skies, blazing shotguns, and blazing tempers. Here, the dank, chilly Pacific Northwest permits, or rather demands, a different range of emotions: poignancy, regret, wintry melancholy. This film takes many risks, using Leonard Cohen's haunting ballads on the soundtrack and shooting scenes in very low light, but remarkably, everything coheres.

The film features Altman's trademark group scenes with overlapping dialogue, but not his typical interlocking plot lines. True to its title, the story centers on gambler and brothel owner John McCabe (Warren Beatty) and his shrewd business partner, Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie). Still, supporting characters always hover at the edges, taking part in vignettes that underline the movie's themes and occasionally provide some humor. In this way, the movie avoids the chaos and confusion of some Altman films, while always remaining aware that the main characters are part of a larger community. It's a perfect balance: both clear and complex.

Still, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is more a study of place and character than a narrative drama. The small, isolated settlement of Presbyterian Church is newly built, but already seems to molder. Ironically, McCabe's brothel is the most "civilized" place in town: it is built quickly and even gets painted, while the church remains half-finished. No families, parents or children live in this bleak town, just a bunch of weary miners and whores who delude and distract themselves. They all have dreams, but barely know how to achieve them; for this reason, they're sympathetic and all too human. McCabe is a true anti-hero, a guy who thinks he's a slick, wisecracking gambler, but his jokes fall flat and he lacks common sense. Mrs. Miller seems confident and shameless, but she secretly uses opium to dispel the pain of living.

At times, the movie is well aware of how it subverts the clichés of the Western genre to reflect what would really have happened out West. For instance, there is a final shootout, but it arises because of a quarrel over business—there are no Indians, no outlaws, and no sheriffs here! But "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is much more than just a clever exercise in revisionism; it's never overtly satirical or mean-spirited. It keenly observes its world and then comments on it, overlaying everything with a delicate sense of poignancy and loss. This is the kind of film that stays with you, but not because of sharp dialogue, beautiful images, or showy performances. Greater than the sum of its parts, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is memorable for the pervasive but understated mood that runs through every frame, creating a truly atmospheric and humanistic film.
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The stranger, the winter lady & the sisters of mercy
Benedict_Cumberbatch9 September 2008
Leonard Cohen's songs don't seem an ordinary choice for a western, but Robert Altman was no ordinary director, and his "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" was definitely not your traditional western. This film can be called a western because of its settings, but if anything, this is a "revisionist western" (à la Clint Eastwood's more recent "Unforgiven", a film that also subverted all the clichés and morales of this traditionally macho genre). And, more than anything, it's a love story.

John McCabe (Warren Beatty), charismatic but no so smart, sets up a whorehouse in the Old West. Constance Miller (Julie Christie), beautiful, strong and determined, soon arrives in town and offers to run the "business" and share the profits with McCabe. They start a tempestuous relationship while business thrives... but when a major corporation tries to buy McCabe & Mrs. Miller's enterprise, McCabe refuses to sell it. It's the beginning of his, her and the town's doom.

Even when exploring such a visual genre as the western (and visually the film is also very compelling, with great use of real snow and a beautifully shot "duel" on a bridge), Altman uses one of his most notorious trademarks: the overlapping dialogue, commonly used in ensembles but also wisely used in a more intimate, character-driven story like this. It works very well, although the 1 on 1 dialogues are deeply insightful themselves (the scene when Christie teaches a very young widow, played by Shelley Duvall, how she is supposed to behave in her new job, is brief, human, and dry). Beatty gives one of his most subtle, captivating performances, and Christie empowers Mrs. Miller with flesh and blood - she was definitely one of the most beautiful and intriguing actresses of her time, alongside Faye Dunaway and Jane Fonda, who set up a standard for beautiful, strong women who were much more than sheer eye candy. McCabe and Mrs. Miller's relationship is so fascinating that even the bang bang fans will be drawn into it and root for them to end together.

So, next time someone says Clint Eastwood reinvented the western with his masterpiece "Unforgiven", remember: 21 years before, Altman had experimented and succeeded on that with his "McCabe & Mrs. Miller". Because love stories are more than kisses and happy endings, and westerns go beyond blood and testosterone.
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Cold And Poetic
Lechuguilla13 October 2006
As a Western this film is fascinating for what it does not contain. There are no sweeping vistas of the Great Plains, no Indians, no cacti, no cowboy hats. There is no sheriff, no broiling sun, and no corny music. And unlike most Westerns, which are plot driven, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is less about plot than about the tone or mood of the frontier setting.

The film takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The weather is cold, cloudy, and inclement. You can hear the wind howling through tall evergreens. And Leonard Cohen's soft, poetic music accentuates the appropriately dreary visuals. In bucking cinematic tradition, therefore, this film deserves respect, because it is at least unusual, and perhaps even closer in some ways to the ambiance of life on the American frontier than our stereotyped notions, as depicted in typical John Wayne movies.

Not that the plot is unimportant. Warren Beatty plays John McCabe, a two-bit gambler who imports several prostitutes to a tiny town, in hopes of making money. Julie Christie plays Mrs. Miller, a prostitute with a head for business. She hears about McCabe's scheme, and approaches McCabe with an offer he can't refuse. Soon, the two are in business together, but complications ensue when word gets around that McCabe may be a gunslinger who has killed someone important. Mrs. Miller is clearly a symbol of the women's liberation movement, and the film's ending is interesting, in that context.

"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a vintage Altman film, in that you can hear background chatter, in addition to the words of the main character. It's Altman's trademark of overlapping dialogue. The film's acting is fine. Both Beatty and Christie perform credibly in their roles.

The visuals have a turn-of-the-century look, with a soft, brownish hue. Costumes and production design are elaborate, and appear to be authentic. The film is very dark, so dark in some scenes that I could barely make out the outline of human figures. In those scenes, I think they went overboard with the ultra dim lighting.

Strictly atypical for the Western genre, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" provides a pleasant change from cinematic stereotypes, and conveys a different perspective on life in the Old West. It's a quality production, one that has Robert Altman's directorial stamp all over it. In that sense, it's more like a cinematic painting than a story. And the painting communicates to the viewer that life on the American frontier was, at least in some places, cold and dreary, and had a quietly poetic quality to it.
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The most 'modern' of westerns
MOscarbradley13 February 2007
Few westerns have succeeded so strangely yet so completely in evoking a sense of place and time than Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller". In fact, it's not really a western at all; certainly not like any western I've ever seen. It's setting is the Pacific Northwest; cold, rainswept and often covered in snow. There are gunslingers but they are more like the professional hit men of gangster movies. When Altman isn't filming through the haze of a rain-drenched exterior he is filming through the haze of a dimly lit interior where darkness is more prevalent than light. Above all, it doesn't have a conventional western hero. McCabe is like a tragi-comic Everyman out of his depth and his territory in this largely alien environment yet canny enough to apply his savvy into transforming the landscape into something tangible, real and materialistically American.

In this respect it is a very modern film in spite of its setting. The fact that Altman doesn't care very much about convention or even about narrative, (it's story is perfunctory; Altman is more interested in 'observing'), makes it so. But then "MASH" wasn't a conventional war movie either just as "Nashville" wasn't really about the country music business.

As for McCabe himself, Beatty plays him with the same laconic, stammering mannerisms he applies to all his roles, (and which he seems either blessed or cursed with in real life), and which actually makes him a perfect Altman hero, (or anti-hero, if you prefer). Mrs Miller, on the other hand, seems coolly distracted from what's going on around her. Julie Christie plays up her Englishness adding another element to the alienation of her character, a stranger in a strange land indeed, while in the foreground the songs of Leonard Cohen seem to hover like warm blankets, cosily familiar and comforting even at their bleakest. They could have been written for the film.
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Greatest Western
jay4stein79-13 November 2004
I spent the entirety of my final year in college reading western literature, reading about western literature, and watching western films. Although I had long been a fan of Altman's 1971 masterpiece, I would probably never have called it the greatest western film. Having sat through most of the Rios, the Searchers, Red River, Stage Coach, the Leone Spaghetti Westerns, and the more current incarnations of the genre (Unforgiven, Dances with Wolves, All the Pretty Horses, et al.), I will say without hesitation that McCabe is a superior film (and a superior western) to all those listed.

It is not, of course, a traditional western, nor does it hold true to traditional 'values' of the western. You will not find any rampaging indians, and the typical shots of vast prairies or a surreal Monument Valley. Your hero is a conniving gambler and the heroine is a whore (and one that quite distinctly lacks a heart of gold). They're sympathetic, but they're also quite real with all the faults and foibles humans typically have. The landscape is brown and green; trees are everywhere and it looks like it's wet most of the time (which is appropriate to a film taking place in the Northwest). One of the few "cowboys" in the film dies in his underwear.

By a long shot, then, this is not your typical western, but it is better.

The wooden characters of old are replaced with real people to whom we can relate and about whom we can care. Furthermore, the environment - dark, dirty, wet, and all around not terribly inviting - seems more in line with the historical west than the traditional western. The West was not the nicest place to live; it was dangerous and inhospitable as it is in McCabe.

I could go on and on about how Altman inverts the western film tradition throughout the movie (as well as how he dismantles the notion that capitalism is a good economic and social system), but I will not. There is no need to treat McCabe that academically. The film is simply wonderful and entertaining - terrific performances, wonderful cinematography, a fascinating story, and great (and very Altman-esque) direction with overlapping conversations and well-handled improvisations. The movie also has the most perfect soundtrack I have ever heard. The songs - by the one and only Leonard Cohen - perfectly match the mood and atmosphere of the film and moreover feel like artifacts of that bygone era depicted in the film. That they were not written or recorded specifically for McCabe is astounding, as they are such an integral and organic part of this film.

If you have not seen this film, please do so; it's well worth the time and, unlike Nashville and Short Cuts - Altman's other masterpieces - it's very accessible.
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Unique, perfect and thoroughly enjoyable.
Tyche19 January 2000
I was led to this movie in 1972 via the Academy nomination of Julie Christie for her remarkable performance and the small trailer used to highlight her. This was enough to get my attention.

Since then I have recommended it to any movie lover- whether a "student of film" or not. I am constantly surprised at the numbers of people who haven't seen this masterpiece. I've lived with it's haunting scenes for a quarter of a century and, as with anything of depth, constantly find new charms in my old love.

From the evocative lyrics of the opening score to it's sudden chilling and deadly encounters, this movie lives in your mind long after the final blizzard cloaks the frame.

If one is a contrarian I would guess the only thing to do after seeing this for perhaps the fiftieth time is to begin looking for that moment where someone, anyone has put a foot wrong in this production. From gaffers to grips, actors to designers, continuity to props it is so pure as to be a documentary in it's granular clarity- there may be a wrong note in there somewhere but until then do yourself a favor and give yourself up to as rich a cinematic experience as you are ever likely to find.

There are few movies I love- I love this movie.
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A tale of the American dream; with hookers
Derek23730 September 2005
Behind every great man is a great woman. McCabe is the man, Mrs. Miller is the woman, and together they form a pretty successful team. Both are in search of the American dream: freedom, fortune, security. Mrs. Miller, a prostitute, and the real brains behind the operation helps make this possible for the couple. She doesn't want to be nothing but a whore for the rest of her life. They partner up and establish the best lil' whorehouse in town. This is quite the unconventional western, and it is executed so perfectly as only the great Robert Altman could do.

I loved the whole process of the film. I liked the characters and wanted to see them succeed. When things go bad, as they often do, some very tense sequences ensue. Men are hired to kill McCabe for not negotiating with the right people. There is one part where he first meets the man hired to kill him that is so nerve-wrecking, but so amusing at the same time. I mean, it's pretty clear early on that McCabe is a bit of a buffoon, but I think this is the crucial point in the film when we know we really care about his fate.

Wonderfully acted by Warren Beatty and Julie Christie in the lead roles(as well as the supporting cast), being in the hands of Robert Altman, and with some great music by Leonard Cohen, McCabe & Mrs. Miller proves itself as a great, great movie. It's a comedy, a tragedy, a classic, a true masterpiece.

My rating: 10/10
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tedg4 December 2003
Spoilers herein.

Filmmakers - intelligent ones - have to choose where they live in a film. The ordinary ones attach themselves to the narrative, usually the spoken narrative, so we get faces and clear, ordered speech to tell us what is going on. These are the most formulaic because there are after all only so many stories that are presentable.

Some attach themselves to characters, dig in and let those characters deliver a tale and situation. Often with the Italians and Italian-Americans, the camera swoops on a tether attached to these characters. I consider this lazy art unless there is some extraordinary insight into the relationship between actor and character.

And then there the few who attach themselves to a sense, a tone, a space. That situation has ideas and stories and talk, but they are only there as reflections from the facets of the place. Of the three, this is the hardest to do well; that's why so few try. And of those that do, most convey style only, not a place, not a whole presentation of the way the world works.

This film is about the best example I know where the world is 'real,' the situation governs everything and the primary substance is the presentation of a Shakespearian quality cosmology of fate.

The camera moves not so much with the story, but it enters and leaves. And there is not just one story, but many that we catch in glimpses. Words just appear in disorder as they do in life. Not everything is served up neat. We drift with the same arbitrariness as McCabe. It is not as meditative as 'Mood for Love' as it has something we can interpret as a story to distract us.

So as a matter of craft, this is an important film, one with painful fishhooks that stick. Beatty had already reinvented Hollywood with 'Bonny,' and was a co- conspirator in this. (If you are into double bills, see it with 'The Claim,' which is intended as a distanced remake/homage, that obliquely references Warren.)

Quite apart from the craft of the thing, and the turning of the Western on its head long before 'Unforgiven,' there are other values:

  • the notion that actors are imported into a fictional world as whores. Not a new idea for sure, but so seamlessly and subtly injected here, it becomes just another one of the background stories. (Also referenced in 'Unforgiven.')

  • the business about the preacher trying to wrestle some old school order from the overwhelming mechanics of arbitrary fate. This is the director's stance.

  • the final concept that the whole thing, McCabe and church and all is an opium dream of the aptly named 'Constance,' dimly reinterpreting other events after the fashion of 'Edwin Drood.'

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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Harsh realities...
poe42612 August 2002
McCABE & MRS. MILLER deals with several of the harsher realities of life in The Old West, and does so unflinchingly, without undue sentimentality (despite the haunting music of Leonard Cohen). Down and dirty filmmaking. Had there been documentary filmmakers roaming The Old West, they might well have shot something not unlike what Altman has wrought here. Unconventional in the extreme, McCABE & MRS. MILLER is the kind of down-to-earth western we need more of. The glamour of hard times washes right off and all that's left is a brutal, harsh reality. Superior filmmaking.
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Altman Takes on the Wild West
evanston_dad3 April 2007
Robert Altman puts his unique spin on the Western, and gives us a haunting and mournful film, and one of the best in his canon.

Warren Beatty buries himself underneath a bushy beard and an enormous fur coat to play McCabe, an opportunist who considers himself to have much more business savvy than he actually does. He appears in the ramshackle mining town of Presbyterian Church, somewhere in the wilds of Washington state at the turn of the 20th Century, and builds a whorehouse and saloon. Constance Miller (Julie Christie), also sporting her own mound of unkempt hair, arrives a little later and becomes McCabe's business partner. She knows much more about running a whorehouse at a profit, and it quickly becomes clear that she's the brains behind the operation. These two develop a timid affection for one another that's never overtly expressed, but their relationship doesn't have time to prosper, as a trio of hit men arrive to rub out McCabe after he refuses to sell his holdings to a corporation intent on buying him out.

Not surprisingly, considering the director, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a strange film. There are virtually no scenes given to outright plot exposition or to showy acting. Much of the plot is conveyed through asides, casual glances and subtle nuances. Wilderness life is shown in all its unglamorous detail, and many of the normally familiar actors are unrecognizable behind their bad teeth, greasy hair and dirty faces. The harsh environment is a character itself, and few movies have a more memorable ending, with McCabe engaged in a most unconventional shoot out amid waist-high drifts of snow.

Altman is of course interested in debunking the usual Western myths. There are no heroes to be found here. McCabe is a decent enough guy, but he's a bit of a fool, and when the bad guys come calling, he runs and hides. The American frontier depicted here is not a sacred place waiting for brave and noble men to come and realize their dreams. Instead, it's a brutal and dangerous wasteland, in which only the craftiest can survive. The theme of corporate exploitation that pervades the film still rings resoundingly to a present-day audience.

But for all its harshness, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a beautiful film to look at. Vilmos Zsigmond bathes everything in an ethereal light, and if there are images of icy starkness, there are also reverse images of rich warmth, notably those that take place in the whorehouse itself, which ironically becomes much more of a civilizing agent and cultural epicenter for the small town than the church that figures so prominently in other ways.

One of the best from Altman's golden period as a director, and one of the best films to emerge from any director in the 1970s.

Grade: A
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Not for moi, sorry...
natashabowiepinky5 January 2014
Three things I learned from this film: 1. Egg yolks mixed with beer is a DISGUSTING drink.

2. Back in those days, people REALLY loved their churches.

3. If a big company offers to buy your small business out, you better accept the offer... Or you're likely to be KILLED.

Yep, apparently this is another of those 'prestigious' motion pictures that I would file under 'Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be'. You see I like stuff to happen in movies, and here... not a whole lot does. There's much pointless talking, a bit of whorehouse nudity, some gambling and a bunch of pretentious background songs by X Factor favourite Leonard Cohen. But nothing to be worth investing 2 hours of your life for.

What Warren Beatty and Julie Christie get given, they do the best with it. I only wish the film had explored their relationship more, then we really might have had something here. Instead we have bar scenes that go nowhere, and 'arty' imagery which just wastes time. There are plenty out there that would disagree with me, but when the only thing I can recall from such a long movie fresh from viewing it is the (admittedly tense) final shootout, then that isn't a good sign. 5/10
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Windex, please.
FilmSnobby15 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
*McCabe and Mrs. Miller* takes place in the turn-of-the-century Pacific Northwest. Into a soggy, muddy mining camp John McCabe (a hirsute Warren Beatty) comes barging, full of cigar smoke and big ideas about building a proper saloon/whorehouse for the town, replete with a trio of the sorriest whores in movie history. He also comes with an unearned reputation as a gunslinger: too shameful about this to blatantly advertise it, but not exactly afraid to use it in order to assert alpha-male credentials amongst the locals. And thus he wrangles the boys into building his saloon at the rate of 15 cents an hour.

It looks to be a rather sorry operation until Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) shows up on a startling contraption that's half-railroad car, half-automobile (where did Altman find that thing?). Mrs. Miller immediately takes on McCabe as a business partner, with the aim of classing up the new joint with proper whores and an insistence that all visitors take a bath before entering. Noting that McCabe doesn't know how to add, she also insists on handling the accounts. It's not clear what McCabe's function will be.

The plot thickens when a pair of oily representatives from the mining company show up in town and offer McCabe to buy him out for five grand. McCabe tells them to buzz off -- he's holding out for fifteen thousand. The company finds negotiation distasteful, so they hire a trio of assassins to simply kill McCabe . . . though how they think they can get away with murdering a man in broad daylight in the center of town is as unclear as McCabe's function in the whorehouse partnership. (Excusing this whopping plot hole on the grounds that the locals would be too cowed to talk doesn't cut the mustard when one considers that any reward-money offered by the local Marshal would be pretty tempting.)

*McCabe and Mrs. Miller*, purportedly "classic Seventies cinema", should be a lot better than it is. The movie tells a pretty good story; the main characters have the potential to be interesting. There are some striking scenes, especially one involving what looks to be a 14-year-old stone-cold killer. But it's really, really hard to enjoy a movie when you can hardly hear what anyone is saying and when you can hardly see what anyone is doing. Once again, this director hijacks his own movie with sheer barnyard laziness and sloppiness. According to the trivia-sheet here on IMDb, the movie's editor griped to Altman that the sound was muddy; Altman disagreed; and when everyone said the sound was muddy after the movie's release, Altman blamed the editor. (Nice.) Along with the bad sound, the movie has an atrocious look. Only Robert Altman can hire a world-class DP like Vilmos Zsigmond and make a movie that looks as if they sprayed the camera lenses with dirty dishwater. Reviewers here who praise the "dark brown glow" of this picture have GOT to be kidding me. The interiors are shot through what appears to be a dark scum. The exterior photography is even worse: it's as if Altman placed 500 fog machines behind the copious trees. During the climactic stretch, when Beatty is dodging the assassins while the local church is on fire, Altman insists on pretty much wholly obscuring the view with an animated snow-fall that reminds one of a Rankin-Bass Christmas special.

Look -- I can't watch a movie under these conditions. Get back to me when you learn how to place boom mikes, when you remove all that annoying "Altman-esque" overlapping dialog, and when you wipe the lenses with some Windex, or something. 3 stars out of 10.
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dazzling in orange hues
TheTwistedLiver12 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers

Their is so much to say about this film, that it is hard to begin in one place. This could possibly be the best film ever made. Upon my first time seeing this masterpiece, I half paid attention, but got enough out of it to realize that it demanded a second viewing. By the time I had realized I wanted to see this film again, I came to the conclusion that I had to own it. I gave it a serious look once I bought it on DVD, and am continuously drawn into its world no matter how

many times I watch it, it only gets better. Powerful is one of the many words which comes to mind, the film starts out beautifully, and subtly becomes deeper as it progresses and the layers are piled on. The stratas are wove together like a sublime tapestry or an orchestral

movement by Mozart. It begins simply with one note, and becomes a hauntingly rich harmony. The best scenes, the ones which stuck with me for days and months after, are the opening sequence with Mccabe riding in on the horse, with the

absolutely perfectly chosen Leonard Cohen soundtrack (Altman tells of listening to Leonard Cohen so much before filming Mccabe and Mrs. Miller, that he

subconsciously thinks set the tone of the film to a Leonard Cohen soundtrack, which he then added after the film was shot) The scene where Julie Christie is in bed after smoking opium and hiding under the covers like a playful child

while Mccabe says "you're a funny little woman", and the most powerful scene in the film, the innocent cowboy being gunned down on the bridge by the kid who

is trying to be a big man in front of his gang. Of course I left out all the brilliant camera work which fits perfectly, never a gratuitous pan or close up, and the final scene of Julie Christie smoking opium while on the bed. In nearly every scene a fire is lit, whether it is a lamp, fire from a fire place, or the church burning in the final scene, fire permeates this film. The warm orange glow of the fireplace in conjunction with Mccabe's giant orange coat, the orange hued leaves lightly pelted with rain, and the warming effect Julie Christie casts from the effects of the opium weave together synergistically, serving as a stark contrast to the wind and snow in the barren newly constructed frontier town. The genius of Altman, lies in shocking the audience, he is a master magician and master of surprise. It is brilliant that he made a western in the middle of winter, it is fantastic that he made the hero an anti-hero, it is magical the entire film came together seamlessly. I am a better person for having seen this film.
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No thanks
sommerjd25 February 2006
I've read all the rave reviews here and am impressed with the imagination of those who loved this film. I can't say that I found much to recommend it. The Leonard Cohen sound track is not only excessively heavy-handed but dreary beyond measure. The film looks authentic enough, but something's got to happen for it to work, and nothing much does: a cursory plot (not a real problem for me), not much character development, nothing thematically. It just slogs along. Flawed as it is, Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" has some moments of genuine wonder and is a film I'd sooner watch again. For a brilliant reconception of the West, HBO's "Deadwood" is much superior to "McCabe."
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Not one of the greatest
TMoney461 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
That this movie is called a Western firstly is one thing I strongly disagree with - secondly that it is named as one of the greatest Westerns of all time is another.

The story lacked any great vigour and plodded aimlessly along from the establishment of McCabe as the leader of the town, to his meeting Constance, to a final showdown with the bad guys. It was hard to feel any connection with the characters at all, and so when McCabe finally succumbs in the shoot out, when the audience should be feeling something for the fallen hero, I felt nothing.

I bought this movie on the basis of its awards and reviews and I was greatly disappointed that I spent 2 hours watching it. The lighting was dark, the music was awful and the story was horrid.

I gave it 4 stars merely for the shoot out scene and because Beatty gives a good performance while surrounded by some very ordinary ones.
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Worst little whorehouse...
Lejink1 August 2011
Perhaps I just don't get Altman. Cards on the table, I preferred the TV "M.A.S.H." to the movie version and didn't laugh once during the original movie. This off-beat western with A-list casting sort of missed me too. Multi-layered, my TV guide said, well I couldn't get through the top crust. Yes it was well shot, in mostly natural light and Altman creates a beautiful snowy tableau for McCabe's demise but where was the story? Perhaps I wasn't comfortable with the depiction of women in the film, Julie Christie apart, as good-for-one-thing whores. There was little humour to leaven the seedy subject matter and just so little narrative drive about the piece. If it was about the supposed love affair between Warren Beatty's McCabe and Christie's Mrs Miller, I didn't get that either. Was it maybe about little-town ideals being corrupted by big business? I don't know, I found watching it that whole minutes had gone by without anything notable happening and having to concentrate to stay interested. I also found the movie very poorly dubbed - I'm British and I still found much of what Christie said to be unintelligible with the rest of the mostly male cast slurring or mumbling their words too. There was a lot of indiscriminate killing for little reason that I could see and little drama or excitement to savour. Perhaps I should watch it again and try harder to absorb its "layers" but to be truthful, I doubt I'd get much past 20 minutes.
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Utterly pointless...
moonspinner5517 December 2006
Robert Altman's downbeat, new-fangled western from Edmund Naughton's book "McCabe" was overlooked at the time of its release but in the past years has garnered a sterling critical following. Aside from a completely convincing boom-town scenario, the characters here don't merit much interest, and the picture looks (intentionally) brackish and unappealing. Bearded Warren Beatty plays a turn-of-the-century entrepreneur who settles in struggling community on the outskirts of nowhere and helps organize the first brothel; once the profits start coming in, Beatty is naturally menaced by city toughs who want part of the action. Altman creates a solemn, wintry atmosphere for the movie which gives the audience a certain sense of time and place, but the action in this sorry little town is limited--most of the story being made up of vignettes--and Altman's pacing is deliberately slow. There's hardly a statement being made (just the opposite, in fact) and the languid actors stare at each other without much on their minds. It's a self-defeating picture, and yet, in an Altman-quirky way, it wears defeat proudly. ** from ****
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Pure Perfection ...
ElMaruecan823 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Writing this review is a real dilemma because the most sincere words I would use to describe this masterpiece would make me feel like paraphrasing Roger Ebert, but for one thing, he was absolutely right, this movie is perfect. It's an incredible achievement, it reaches a level of greatness so high, you feel like your eyes will never witness such cinematic perfection, such documentary-like authenticity, such beauty in ugliness. This film captures the end of the Old Western Myth through the fate of one of the most fascinating movie characters: John McCabe, brilliantly portrayed by Warren Beatty.

John McCabe embodies the Old West myth through his complex but charismatic personality. Here is a good-hearted man, a man who claims to be a businessman, but who seems to carry something deeply hidden in his conscience, in his soul. Whether it's a strength or a weakness, we can't tell in the beginning of the film. Some said he killed a guy? Is is true? McCabe doesn't care. He's here for business and means it. He builds a saloon, and supplies the distraction to the future inhabitants of the modest Presbyterian Church, a little but promising town, in the middle of nowhere. McCabe is respected because he's got charisma, humor, and the money to make him the richest, therefore the most powerful man in town. He's a strong character, a true leader with a beard like the mane of a lion whom he also seems to have the heart. Until the second protagonist of the film, Mrs. Miller, comes.

Mrs. Miller, a peculiar little woman who makes the lion look like a lamb. She talks straight-forwardly, she's a whore and proposes to provide her experience in the whore business, in other words, a partnership. The way she handles the negotiation is so convincing even McCabe can't resist. But not because he's a visionary but because he liked her at first sight, even though he has too much pride to admit it. And this movie becomes one of the greatest and most poignant romances ever portrayed.

McCabe isn't meant to be a leader, though he tries to act like one, but this is no Ford or Hawks's film. McCabe is too fragile, too human. Mrs. Miller is the tougher one and she realizes it soon. They're different, but they're complementary. And she wants to protect him, because she, too, developed a fondness for him (it wouldn't have been a romance otherwise) The tragedy of their romance is that if Mrs. Miller had McCabe's personality and vice versa, things would have probably turned differently, for good. But it didn't. McCabe goofing around lead him to commit a fatal mistake. When two agents from a major corporation offer to buy him out, he doesn't get the idea and he bargains. McCabe is just too tragically dumb to figure out that his refusal to "sign the contract" signed his own death warrant. How ironic, this man who doesn't want to share his money, his land, still accepts to share the woman he loves. There's no place for good-hearted men, it's the time of industry, business and majors and McCabe already belongs to another era.

One particular scene illustrates this idea, and it's almost painful to remember it. It's the famous bridge scene, a reminiscent of Elisha Cook Jr.'s character death in "Shane". The victim is a gentle funny looking kid who spent good time with the whores and happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong moment. Never had a death shocked me and saddened me so much. The guy was good-hearted, like McCabe, and he was killed because as soon as he crossed the bridge facing that little punk (one of the few characters I couldn't wait to see die), he couldn't go back, even by acting friendly. Just like McCabe sealed his fate and wasn't even given the choice to reconsider the offer. Miller knew he was doomed, Miller, also too proud to admit her love, making her partner a customer even in love. Money was just her shell, but look at her in the bed scene when she's smiling to him, the light shining from her eyes is nothing but love, and this is the most beautiful smile ever captured in film.

McCabe's demise is another tribute to the greatness of the film. The guy is chased by the colossal villainous Butler and his two side-kicks including the previously mentioned punk. What does McCabe do? He chickens out, and tries to escape, at least this is his first reaction. Another element that makes us feel so much sympathy for McCabe, forget Eastwood's speech in "Unforgiven" : 'Hell of a thing killing a man'. It doesn't need words in Altman's masterpiece, just show McCabe running from death and we get the idea. This climactic sequence is so thrilling we feel like being chased with McCabe. And when he kills the villains one by one, this concludes his fascinating story arc by denying Butler's statement "McCabe never killed a guy before". After all, the guy might be human, fragile, dead, but he's the Old West.

As McCabe is slowly buried in snow, Mrs. Miller is in an opium den, looking at the light with melancholy, feeling like a precious part of herself is progressively fading to death ... melancholy, snow, death, we're absorbed in an ocean of emotions we wouldn't expect from a western, a feeling of profound sadness, why such awful things happen to good people, why? because no matter why, when something comes to an end, it must end. It's called tragedy, it's tragically sad ... this is the saddest movie I've seen, the end of an era, of a myth, of a genre. It doesn't preach sadness, it just illustrates the doom of living in a world where a good heart has nowhere to live, and two good hearts nowhere to live together.
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Making the Meaningless Meaningful.
doublesquids17 November 2018
McCabe and (Mrs. Miller. Yes, Mrs. Not "Ms.")

It was a good script. The bad guys were corrupt businessmen. So what? Love did not conquer all. But it was there. It was heroic. Why?

The setting: old, wet, miserable. It seemed futile. It turned out to be futile. It seemed absurd. It was absurd.

The preacher was absurd. His cartoonish "gun control" was absurd. His absurd behavior led to the church fire.

The Leonard Cohen music tied it all together. Leonard gave it meaning while his lyrics explicitly addressed the absurd:

> "you knew I was a stranger."

> "about this or any other matter."

> "you could read their address by the moon."

> "Yes you who must leave everything / that you cannot control / it begins with your family / but soon it comes round to your soul

What made this a good film? It reminded me of the French writer Albert Camus who died in a car crash in 1960. His literary mission was the unblinking confrontation of the absurdity of life, and the heroic response to such an absurdity: rebellion.

Camus used the Greek myth of Sisyphus, condemned to eternal frustration by the gods, having to push a rock uphill only to see it roll back down day after day.

Camus wrote: "We might imagine Sisyphus happy."

Neither of the lead characters of the film were conventional. They rebelled against the conventional wisdom represented by the preacher, and they knew that there was such a thing as right and wrong, even though they didn't know how they knew it.

Did the movie accurately represent American history? In my view it did. The "seamy side," but accurate.

Where was it shot?

"The film was shot in West Vancouver and in Squamish (BC, not WA), almost in sequential order, a rarity for films." (Wikipedia)

Was the plot "camusien"? Yes. The characters worked against Sisyphean odds, and they were rebels. Their hard-scrabble lives had "become so absolutely free that you'd believe their freedom was an act of rebellion." (Translation of a quote from Camus.)

That's what made the movie work. Otherwise it would have been nihilistic, mean but without meaning.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller were heroes, not victims, villains, or vegetables.

What does it mean to rebel against absurdity?

It means to make the meaningless meaningful, while knowing the futility of that effort. Pushing the rock up the hill, knowing that it will just roll down again.
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Good if somewhat overrated "anti-western"
utgard141 November 2013
A slight rant in place of a typical review, so bear with me. I'm somewhat amused by those that seem to think this version of the Old West is somehow the most real. They believe that the west was a place that was dark, rainy, and muddy all the time. One can't deny the influence Altman's film has had on westerns since. So many have shot their westerns to mimic this supposed reality. The comparisons typically go "old westerns didn't have it right but Altman does. His is the most authentic picture of life in the Old West." Really? So life in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, California, etc. matched that of rainy Vancouver? This is ridiculous.

Here's what's real: this movie takes place in the pacific northwest and is shot in Canada. To say Altman is fictionally portraying a small previously unexplored part of Old West history is fine. But to take it a step further and say this is representative of the Old West as a whole or even a majority is blatantly false. Furthermore, to use this as a tool to degrade older western movies, which actually did take place and were filmed in proper western US locations, is dishonest. Sorry but this sort of thing has always bugged me. I'm not a big fan of the visual of the Canadian westerns even though I have enjoyed quite a few of them as films. It's an artistic choice for these filmmakers to choose to shoot there because the weather is depressing and the stories usually follow suit. It's also a business choice because it has been so much cheaper to film there for decades. But let's not say it's because of historical accuracy when it isn't.

Anyway, as to this film's merits. I won't bother to cover ground others have covered. It's an enjoyable movie, artistically speaking, though not much fun and you're left at the end with a "what was the point" type of feeling. It's definitely not a strong narrative. The story is paper thin. If you're coming to this hoping to see some of what you expect from the two stars, you'll probably be disappointed. Warren Beatty is not his usual sexy, funny, charming self. Hidden away behind a beard and spending about half the movie mumbling like Popeye, none of the personality Beatty exhibited in most of his more famous films comes through. Julie Christie is a great beauty but here she's deliberately "uglied up" so as to add to the film's perceived authenticity.

It's a revisionist western and a good one. I would just like some of the pretentiousness to be checked at the door. Not for all tastes.
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Liked half, Did not like half
juanathan26 July 2005
I was awaiting to see this movie for a long time but I have to say I was pretty disappointed. I did not hate it. I did not love it except for the end. Some people say Altman is an acquired taste. After seeing this and the average Short Cuts, I fear I know what side of the tracks I'm on.

There was definitely stuff to like. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie were both very good as the title characters especially Julie Christie. It was well written. Although a low body count, the movie did something very revolutionary at the time by making the deaths very poignant and meaningful instead of being a mindless kill fest of a Western. By far the best feature is the ending, it is well thought out, emotionally builds tension, and undeniably brilliant. It definitely goes off on the right note. Also a very good soundtrack by Leonard Cohen.

A lot of the techniques Altman used were very annoying. There was basically no lighting. I can honestly say that about 30 percent of this movie I could not see what was going on. Altman is known for and especially in M*A*S*H for putting dialog over other dialog and then for some odd reason going to the unimportant person's dialog. I know he is trying to be realistic but it is distracting ,completly arbitrary and a waste of time. It has a bunch of pointless scenes. Although some very good cinematography on some outside scenes, most of the inside scenes give off an unnatural yellowish orange color that is honestly not very good on the eyes. My biggest complaint is the title characters relationship. The book is called McCabe and they should have named the movie the same. Julie Christie was very under used. I wanted more of her. I thought their relationship was underdeveloped. There were parts in her character I wanted to go into with more depth i.e. her opium addiction but not to a veil. After the breathtaking ending, you see an image of her and you wish there was more of her. Maybe it did not go off on the right foot.
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Revealing a forgotten part of our history that I'd rather forget!
MartinHafer4 November 2013
The film begins with McCabe (Warren Beatty) coming into a dirty western mining town and setting up a brothel. Soon, a 'classy' working girl, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) approaches him with a plan to increase profits by improving the house's image--with prettier girls, required baths by everyone and the like. It is successful but other folks want a piece of the action.

I am a retired history teacher, so I am very critical of many Hollywood films because they play fast and loose with the facts. So, in this sense, I am happy to see a film like "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" because it presents a stark contrast to the squeaky clean and silly image we used to get in westerns. Singing cowboys wearing clean designer outfits were the norm in the 1930s-50s and while Roy Rogers and Gene Autry films were enjoyable, they were pure fiction. Here in "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", however, things are DIRTY---bleak, dismal and brown. And, folks are scraggly-haired, filthy and consort with whores...LOTS and LOTS of whores. This is much more realistic but it also presents two major problems. First, this ultra-realism of the 1970s paints an inaccurate picture in another way because EVERYONE is filthy and nasty in this film...EVERYONE. Second, even if it is more realistic in some ways, who wants to see such a depressing and nasty film?! While I know many reviewers love this one, I also wonder how many more wouldn't see a film like this in the first place or would just turn it off after a few minutes? With language I cannot repeat on IMDb due to their standards for reviews (so many things they say in the film are simply not allowed to be repeated here), I am sure many folks wouldn't sit still for the picture--and I am not talking about prudes but the average person who doesn't want to hear burping, cursing and a story all about prostitutes, opium addicts and pimps.

Apart from the nastiness of the plot and characters, I have another issue with the film and it's technical. While the film is by a very well respected director, it's odd that the film looks and sounds so darn ugly. The sound is muddy and the cinematography is much the same. It just looks crudely made and watching it with captions is an almost must--as otherwise, some of the sound is a bit hard to understand.

Overall, I found this film to be quite innovative and unrelentingly unpleasant.
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Along with 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid', this should have been the last Western (possible spoilers)
the red duchess9 April 2001
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this Altman masterpiece on the same day as Renoir's 'Toni', which set me thinking about realism. 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' has a dense realistic texture rarely seen in movies, which goes beyond mere visual authenticity, giving equal prominence to sound, most obviously Altman's trademark overlapping dialogue, where the main characters' words are part of an overall, frequently indistinct aural pattern, but also in the kind of irrelevant off-plot asides, the scraping of chairs, the distant sound of music, the beating of the snow etc., that doesn't just create an atmosphere against which the main players are foregrounded, but give a tangible illusion of messy, lived experience.

Altman and Renoir come at this texture from opposite directions, though. Where Renoir used genre (a love triangle/murder plot) to reveal the artificiality of realism, Altman uses realism to emasculate the artificiality of genre. 'McCabe' comes from a period in Altman's filmmaking when he was taking hoary male genres, encrusted with formulae, and deconstructing their assumptions - M*A*S*H, the great anti-war anti-war-film; 'The Long Goodbye', the great anti-detective film; 'Thieves Like Us', the great anti-gangster film.

This makes Altman's project sound like Godard's, a way of foregrounding, uncovering, critiquing established cinematic codes and modes. But where Godard foregrounds these genres' artifice, Altman adopts an almost pedantic realism. 'Mccabe' begins with the archetypal Western beginning, a mysterious stranger enters a town. Sure enough, he has a 'rep' as a notorious gunfighter. The film ends with an equally archetypal ending, the elaborate shootout.

But even these cliches aren't what we might expect - McCabe/Beatty lost and unrecognisable in a huge bear-skin coat, mumbling to himself, is hardly the lean, mean, menacing outlaw we might expect; while the shoot-out, far from being a ritual, theatrical, exorcising public rite, is instead a fumbled game of hide and seek far away from a public eye busily rescuing a burning church no-one attends.

In between, the film may as well not be a Western if we accept that term as a genre with rules and characters. There is a tart with a heart; there is a public humiliation scene; there is an entrepeneur who builds a town and a community out of a desert, this time a snowy, gravel one. But narrative seems to get lost in the textural fuzz, just as Beatty's words (never the most distinct in movies!) get lost in the general babble. For a hero, McCabe spends most of the time shuffling around, belching, trying to be the big man, when he clearly isn't. In this way, Altman succeeds where his contemporary iconoclasts Peckinpah and Leone failed; by using genre to critique it, they never quite removed its pleasures.

But this is not to suggest that 'McCabe' is a negative experience. It is probably Altman's warmest, most human film, as well as being supremely funny. The rare set-piece, such as Keith Carradine's goof on the bridge with a psycho teenage thug shocks because it is so unexpected. The extended asides - the poker games; the prostitutes' first bathing; the ceili on the ice; McCabe's hopeless business negotiations - are supremely pleasurable in themselves, for their vivid detail, their rooting in character.

But this is never realism. Altman's camera is constantly imposing itself, focusing the viewer's attention, leading him astray (especially in the crucial scene where McCabe and Mrs. Miller sleep together, and the camera stalls on the box of money, a completely misleading shot), taking him out of the realism, and into questioning Altman's formal motives. The elaborate, often multi-frame, compositions are 'unrealistically' pregnant. In any case, Leonard Cohen's opening song gives the film away before the credits have ended! Or does it? The profusion of mirrors and frames suggest we don't take anything at face value, least of all Altman.
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McCabe and McCloud
tieman6422 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Like most Westerns, Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller" begins with a mysterious loner arriving at a remote town. His name's John McCabe (Warren Beaty), and the town in question is Presbyterian Church, a small settlement at the edge of Washington State. Immediately the townsfolk regard McCabe with suspicion. He claims to be a simple gambler, but rumour has it that he shot and killed a gunfighter called Billy Roundtree.

An opportunist and small-time entrepreneur, McCabe decides to set up a small bar and brothel. Something simple. Nothing fancy. And so he hires a trio of prostitutes, commissions a few local men and starts work on his enterprise. Enter Constance Miller (Julie Christie), a professional hooker with her own troupe of girls. She becomes McCabe's business partner, but gradually begins to take control of his finances. Whilst McCabe lacks business savvy and simply wants to set up a place to gamble, Mrs Miller has larger ambitions. She wants to make lots of fast cash and doesn't have time for small minded runts like McCabe.

Though seemingly incompatible - she loves certainty, he's a gambler, she's a realist, he's a dreamer - McCabe and Mrs Miller gradually fall in love. It's a subdued romance, but affecting all the same, primarily because we sense that McCabe is lonely and looking for love. "I got poetry in me," he says, but Mrs Miller refuses to get too close.

As Presbyterian Church blossoms into a successful community, a pair of agents from the Harrison mining company arrive. They want to buy out McCabe's business, but McCabe says no. Big mistake. Harrison is notorious for having people killed when they refuse to sell. McCabe contacts lawyers with the hope of protecting himself, but it's no use. Three gunmen appear at the edge of town and McCabe is forced to confront them. He kills them all, but dies himself to a mortal wound. The film ends. Business continues.

Audiences didn't know what to make of "McCabe and Mrs Miller" when it was first released. Altman is a director who thrives on shapelessness and confusion. His films buzz with the dangerous thrill of collaboration. The unplanned zooms, the improvising actors, the swirling sound design, it's all initially very off-putting.

Still, as a revisionist Western the film is endlessly fascinating, Altman systematically reversing many western conventions: the classic set up with the stranger coming to town, the saloons, the gunfights...he treats them all with a fresh or skewed approach.

Likewise, John McCabe lacks the typical swagger we've come to expect from our Western heroes. McCabe is vulnerable, clumsy and unlucky with the ladies. In contrast, Mrs. Miller is very much the man of the picture. A world weary business woman, her head always in books, she's pragmatic to the point of ruthlessness. Yes, we sense her feelings for McCabe. But they're feelings which she keeps at bay. She has to if she wishes to survive.

The film's tone was deemed shocking at the time. It featured a cast of lusty men and grimy prostitutes, sex is pervasive, and Altman repeatedly subverts religion and mysticism. Whilst countless Westerns play up their apocalyptic endings, for example, Altman has a church burn down without significance and as dryly as possible. This isn't a mythical clash between good and evil, just another day on the frontier.

The film's setting is also unique, Altman constructing a huge village in the mountains of British Columbia. A far cry from John Ford's Monument Valley, Altman's landscape is one of rotten wood, mud, ice sheets and howling winds. All these traits have led to some calling "McCabe" an "anti-western", but on one level it is most other westerns that are "anti western", trading in a wholly myopic view of the frontier life. Altman, meanwhile, is more interested in sketching the kinds of real hardships that were responsible for "building America". His is a world of constant struggle, toil, corporate exploitation, violent business savvy and personal tragedy. But he also captures the entrepreneurial spirit and camaraderie that allowed these budding communities to form and prosper.

Being a film which reverses the idealizations promulgated by the genre, it's no surprise that "McCabe and Mrs Miller", like Altman's previous film, "Brewster McCloud", deals almost exclusively with both the literal and metaphorical death of romantic idealism. Women turn up to Presbyterian Church with dreams of riches and wealth, only to find mud, rain and an incomplete brothel. Similarly, one woman hopes to find peace and marriage, but promptly finds herself working as a prostitute when her husband dies.

Altman extends this naivety, this profound disappointment or disillusionment, to everyone in the film, even McCabe himself. McCabe prides himself as a gambler and bluffer, only to find himself unable to negotiate a price with the Mining Company. Later a lawyer boasts that McCabe will soon be a legend and hero for standing up to and defeating the mighty corporations. McCabe is gunned down the following day.

Similarly, a boasting cowboy visits a brothel, only to have his genitals mocked. Altman even extends this naivety to the bad guys. "McCabe's never fired a shot in his life," one gunman says. He dies to McCabe's bullet the following day.

Time and again, Altman shows the price of naivety, of idealism, building things up until that final moment when all hopes of a union between McCabe and Mrs Miller are shattered. With the death of both McCabe and a young, innocent cowboy, Altman shows that the literal death of good and innocence is consummate with the metaphorical death of romantic idealism.

9/10 – Worth multiple viewings.
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A Sombre Beauty
JamesHitchcock12 December 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film is an example of what has been called the "revisionist Western". The traditional Western had often presented an idealised, highly moralistic, picture of the Old West as a place where the brave, honourable men in the white hats took on the villainous criminals in the black hats and almost invariably came out on top. The revisionists tried to undermine this picture by presenting us with a world where good did not always triumph over evil- a world, indeed, where the lines between good and evil were often blurred. The heyday of the traditional Western was in the forties and fifties, significantly the era of World War II and the early days of the Cold War. There were, of course, Westerns from these decades where moral boundaries were by no means clear-cut, but they tended to be a minority; when film-makers of the period wanted to deal in moral ambiguity they often turned to other genres, such as film noir. By the late sixties and early seventies, however, the revisionists were in the ascendant, possibly because events such as the Vietnam War had caused many Americans to question some of their most cherished beliefs about their country.

"McCabe and Mrs Miller" is a film which takes its revisionism rather further than some. Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" is sometimes quoted as the quintessential revisionist Western, and it certainly shows us the West as a harsh, pitiless place. Yet although Peckinpah shows us both his criminal protagonists and their enemies as brutal and ruthless, he also mythologises the brutality and ruthlessness of the "Bunch", particularly in the final battle scene in which they achieve a sort of epic grandeur. Tom Gries's "Will Penny" demythologises the West by showing us the cowboy not as hero but as average working man, but keeps the moral distinction between the sympathetic Penny and his villainous adversaries.

Robert Altman's film is different to either. It is set in the early twentieth century in a small logging town in the Pacific North-West- a late date and an unusual location for a Western. The town goes by the name of Presbyterian Church, but the local residents, mostly male, have things other than religion on their minds. John McCabe is an entrepreneur who arrives in town with a scheme to make his fortune by setting up a tavern-cum-brothel. The sex industry is not a field of business in which he has any experience, but he goes into partnership with Constance Miller, an English hooker turned madam, and at first their enterprise proves a great success. Their success, however, proves to be their undoing. A powerful corporation wants to take over the town and makes McCabe an offer to buy out his holdings. He thinks the price is too low and refuses, not realising that the people with whom he is dealing will resort to anything, including violence, to get what they want and that this is the proverbial "offer he cannot refuse".

The plot is a relatively simple one, much more so than some of Altman's other films, such as "Short Cuts" with its collection of interlocking stories or "Gosford Park" with its multiple sub-plots. I felt, in fact, that the film was too long and in parts too slow-moving and that the simple story could have been better told in a more compact form. When I first saw it I occasionally found it difficult to follow, largely because of the director's frequent use of overlapping conversations, although I found it more comprehensible on a second viewing.

There are, however, compensations. The film is set in autumn and winter; the indoor scenes are dark, lit only by oil lamps and log fires, and the outdoor ones are dull, with overcast skies, rain and snow. (The final scenes take place in a snowstorm). The dominant tones are greys and browns, but from this limited palette Altman is able to achieve a sombre beauty. Indeed, this is visually one of the most beautiful films ever made, one of those films where almost every shot is composed like a painting. Leonard Cohen's haunting songs fit the mood of the film perfectly.

There is no epic grandeur about this film, the sordid tale of a brothel-keeper who gets himself shot because of his greed and stupidity. His death goes unnoticed by his fellow townsmen, who are more worried about the fact that the local church has caught fire. This is no story out of which legends are made, like the Gunfight at the OK Corral or Custer's Last Stand. It is the sort of story which might merit a few brief paragraphs on the crime page of a local newspaper. By 1971 the Western had, by and large, ceased to celebrate the triumph of Good over Evil. In Altman's vision it ceased to celebrate anything of any note. This is the only Western the director made, and he significantly referred to it as an "anti-Western". Yet he managed to produce from this sordid and mundane subject-matter a strange, hauntingly beautiful film. 7/10
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