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McCabe and Mrs. Miller
1 review

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Robert Altman

Written By:
Robert Altman

Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, William Devane, Keith Carradine, John Schuck, Rene Auberjonois, Shelley Duvall, Bert Remsen, Michael Murphy, Hugh Millais, Jack Riley

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McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)
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Movie Review by Farmer Waltz
August 3rd, 2009

As a big fan of the late Robert Altman, I still had some apprehensions about his 1971 film. The director already had a long list of television westerns under his belt, including an episode of "Bonanza." But how would he fit in with the rest of his contemporaries? At the time, McCabe was an addition to the new reworking of the genre where singing cowboys and honorable John Wayne types were replaced with a more cynical view of the Wild West. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had been released just two years before, and Spaghetti westerns like High Plains Drifter, Revisionist westerns like Little Big Man and the colorfully violent work of Sam Peckinpah were portraying a frontier of glorified anti-heroes, brutality and inequality. You can't blame Altman for getting swept up in all the excitement.

Unlike his groundbreaking, reflective counterparts, however, McCabe lacks the energy belonging to the movement. It follows John McCabe (Warren Beatty) as he settles in a fledgling Washington mining town to open a much needed wh*rehouse and saloon. His efforts are aided by Englsih madam Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie) who proves a savvy and tenacious business woman, butting heads with the naive McCabe over the future of his investments. As the two grow closer, and the profits come rolling in, their relationship begins to blossom beyond the professional. But as a major corperation sets its sights on the burgeoning town, it may mean trouble for McCabe as he refuses to make a deal with them.

The tone of Beatty could play charming in his sleep, and he tackles his role well enough. But the real credit goes to Christie, who dazzles as the c*ckney Miller. She looks as wild as her surroundings, her frizzy unruly locks barely subdued by a large hat and pins. She quickly becomes the matriarch, not just of the girls under her watch, but of the town, as each John takes solace from the harshness of the wilderness in the warmth of her house. There seems to be more care taken with her character then with any other. Her background reveals itself gently and unspoken; at his funeral, she stares at the young widow (played by Shelley Duvall, of course) of a miner, her expression letting us in on the woman's fate. The scene tells of why she's a Missus, and why an intelligent woman like her ended up whoring in a backwoods town.

The story unfolds slowly, and by its bleak tone, we already know the ending before the second half. It tells of a recurring cycle inevitable even in the most rugged of climates, where progress and the advancement of big business wins out no matter what, especially when guns and lawlessness are at its disposal. But in that, there is the true blessing in the communities that rose from the greed and corruption, where disenfranchised people make lives for themselves in the background of the chaos. Boring but meaningful, Altman's western just barely makes the grade when it comes to meeting the standards of the new Western.

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Aug 3, 2009 4:13 AM
Honey-Child -

Being the big Robert Altman fan that you say you are - Are you telling me that you actually liked Short Cuts? McCAbe & Mrs. Miller may have been boring, but meaningful - As you say. But Short Cuts was just plain boring!
Farmer Waltz
Aug 3, 2009 12:27 PM
Are you kidding? Short Cuts was awesome. The multi-string narrative, the list of actors, which included Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Waits. How could you possibly call a movie boring when it has Lyle Lovett as a disturbed pastry chef? The novelty alone is worthwhile.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller was almost pointless and had that awful Leonard Cohen soundtrack that by itself would have put me to sleep. Altman has made some boring movies, but Short Cuts is not one of them.

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