McCabe and Mrs Miller 1971 (1971) Other movies recommended for you
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Plot: A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in a remote Old West mining town, and their enterprise thrives until a large corporation arrives on the scene. Runtime: 120 mins Release Date: 24 Jun 1971
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 <more>
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.
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 <more>
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 businessthere 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.
Unique, perfect and thoroughly enjoyable. (by Tyche)
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 <more>
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.
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 <more>
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.
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 <more>
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
Along with 'Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid', this should have been the last Western possible spoilers (by the red duchess)
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 <more>
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.
I think Robert Altman looked down upon the world of country music when he made Nashville, and also on the fashion world when he made 'Pret a Porter'. In 'McCabe', Altman tries to keep distance from anything that might resemble a western, even though it is a western story. Make no mistake, 'McCabe' is a very good film, but the effort to be a non western goes against it. John Wayne and Howard Hawks did not like 'High Noon' because when three gunfighters came to get Gary Cooper, the people in the town did not help. They thought that would not happen in real life, <more>
that people are better than that. That is not my point of view, but what can we say about 'McCabe', that when three men show up to get Warren Beatty, the town's people are either alienated or even help them? And what about Julie Christie who just cops out smoking opium? One of the men kills a cowboy for no reason whatsoever in a shocking scene. Is this the true west without the myth? Does the fact that it is cruel make it more real?.Warren Beatty's interpretation of McCabe is great, perhaps his best, he is the good innocent person taking a task too big for him, considering the people he is dealing with. You really wish that he would come out winning.
I loved this film. It's beautiful to watch the cinematography is gorgeous , the music is very melancholic and does a wonderful job setting the mood of the film. I'd never seen a western that captured so well and so realistically the lives of regular townspeople and how they mingled and interacted with one another. About the film itself, I'll say this: although there're some of the filmmaker's trademarks throughout the film quirky and interesting characters, dark humor , I found it to be the least Altmanesque of his movies in that it's much more linear and sequential <more>
and not a series of story lines coming together. The performances are nuanced and subtle, darkly humorous at times, and very realistic. The sheer aesthetic value of the film is immense; I found myself immediately drawn by the images and transported back to a West that truly seemed other-wordly as seen by these characters. In short, what makes this film so different is not the story which is entertaining, mind you nor the performances which are memorable , but how it depicts the West. It is in the capturing of that atmosphere and in transporting the viewer to that time and place that the film really shines.This movie is listed as one of the 1001 to watch before you die; I can totally see why, and although I'm not planning to, If I did die I would do so knowing that my last movie-watching experience was a truly fulfilling one which is more than I can say for several of the films listed in the book . I would recommend this movie for any fan of revisionist westerns, Robert Altman or slow-building, moody films; I wouldn't recommend it for anyone seeking an action-packed, shoot'em up kind of movie.
This is one of Robert Altman's more accessible films. There is the usual group of people forming a loosely structured community, and there are reality intrusions and unanticipated events. But the film has a plot too. It generates not just a sense of familiarity but tension as well. It leads somewhere and the outcome, which is a matter of life and death, is problematic.Warren Beatty rides into a rough-hewn town in the Pacific Northwest. The buildings are all made of raw planks of shaved wood. The rooms are small, drafty and crowded with sweaty people in gargantuan fur robes.Beatty sets up <more>
a cat house. He's soon joined by Julie Christie, who convinces him that he does not know how to manage a whore house or anything else -- he can't subtract nine from twenty-three in his head -- whereas she, with all her experience, and with a share of the profits, can turn the entrepreneurial adventure into a success. She does so.Beatty falls for Christie over time, but she's largely indifferent to him. Also she's into doing opium with the local Chinese population during her "quiet time." It's a very PC movie. Beatty: "Many Chinks around here?" Little does he know that trouble lies just around the corner. He doesn't know because the character, unlike Beatty, hasn't read the script and doesn't realize that a Western that is not an outright comedy requires a climactic showdown. Two agents from a mining company show up and want to buy him out. They offer a fair price but Beatty is a bit of a fool and turns them down flat. Christie warns him that the company doesn't take no for an answer and that he's endangering his life, but Beatty, the big know-it-all who can't add or subtract, rejects a second, higher offer from the two agents. The agents are both puzzled and disappointed. They agree to turn the affair "over to Jake." Then they leave town.Jake is seven feet tall. He rides into town in a silver fur coat the size of a circus tent, carrying a ten-foot-long big-barreled rifle, accompanied by two ominous gun-toting hoods of lesser proportions.At last Beatty awakens to the fact that these are deeper waters than he'd thought. But he's not Gary Cooper and this is not "High Noon." Beatty is not only terrified at the prospect of death. He does everything he can to sell out.First, full of bravado, he visits Jake Butler in the saloon. While other townsfolk look on, Jake immediately takes control of the situation. Beatty offers him a cigar but Jake says, "Have one of mine." And when Beatty suggests they retire to a remote table to talk business, Jake stops him with, "No, this is fine." Beatty then offers, with much hemming and hawing, to sell his property at a lower price than the two agents first offered. "But I don't make deals," says Jake with a big firm grin.Next, Beatty goes to the nearest port town in Washington state and looks up the two agents, hoping to sell out to THEM, but they've already gone.Beatty consults a lawyer -- "the next senator from the state of Washington" -- who tells him he has nothing to worry about; they'll take the matter to court and Beatty will be a hero to the common man. Talk about Job's comforters! Beatty may be shot and killed the very next day, so the last thing on his mind is becoming a beacon of hope for the man on the street.You can tell this is an Altman film from the overlapping dialog and the way disparate individuals keep bumping into one another and trading wisecracks. Most of those wisecracks were hoary with age when I heard them in high school. Beatty: "You keep talking about 'we.' Who's this 'we'? You have a turd in your pocket?" And there is humor too, more set up than in many of Altman's other films. Christie excoriates Beatty for not having bathed. Beatty gets drunk, sitting in a chair and trying unsuccessfully to close his pocket watch, shabby, mumbling, "I don't give a s***. I ain't takin' no g** damn bath." But he does finally bathe and tries to visit Christie with a handful of flowers. The door to her room is locked. "Open this door," he demands. "No." "Well if you think I'm going to talk to you through a locked door he lurches against it and it doesn't budge .... that's all right with me." The shoot out is full of suspense and far more believable than that in "High Noon." The whole structure of the movie makes more sense. Beatty has no sense of honor. His manhood has nothing to do with it. Of the people he manages to put a bullet into one each , he shoots two of them in the back before they know he's there. And Christie merely droops with resignation and retreats to the Chinese opium den.The movie isn't as taut as it might be, or as inexorably logical. What Altman film is? The deep affection between Beatty and Christie pops up out of nowhere like a jack in the box. The sound track is sometimes muddied by extraneous conversations. The production designer and set dresser should get a medal for that drafty new wooden town. It's a Northwest Coast climate. When it's not raining it's snowy or, at best, cloudy. Seattle weather forecasts sometimes predict "sun breaks," meaning that the cloud cover may have holes in it and if you're lucky you might get a glimpse of the sun. The town reeks of damp sawdust. And like the surrounding forests of pine and fir, it's laden with wet heavy snow. Give a medal to wardrobe too. Where did they come up with that cartoon cowboy hat that Keith Carradine wears?