MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER
7" single CBS 7684, France 1971 (all three songs).
On the soundtrack:
The Stranger song
Sisters of mercy
A grin and dirty slice of bleak frontier life rendered with extraordinary beauty.
John McCabe, an ambitious small-timer opens a bordello in turn-of-the-century boom town.
A drama/Western directed by Robert Altman, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. 121 min.
7" promo single CBS 7684, Portugal 1972 (all three songs).
Director Robert Altman (Nashville, The Player) was on a roll back in 1971. His breakthrough
film M*A*S*H was still generating excitement, which made his wildly experimental next project
with the public. And so along came McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Set in the Pacific Northwest, it was to be
But like all Altman films, it can't easily be reduced to the common denominator of plot. It's a film
about character, atmosphere, and mood. It fulfills Jean-Luc Godard's belief that really important movies
don't unfold on a screen, but rather between the screen and the spectators who watch them. While failing
to gain much public attention, McCabe and Mrs. Miller proved a critical hit, and has emerged as a key
film of its era, central to Altman's career.
What's going on up on screen can be summarized rather simply in narrative terms.
The script, fashioned by Altman and Brian McKay from a novel by Edmund Naughton tells of a gambler
named McCabe (Warren Beatty) and the rise and fall of his fortunes when he arrives in the small mining
town of Presbyterian Church. The locals gossip that the newcomer may be a fearsome outlaw on the run.
McCabe denies it, but in a manner that leaves enough room to add some aura to his presence.
He ventures to a neighboring town to rustle up some "chippies" for the female-starved men of
Presbyterian Church and meets his match, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie). Far wiser to the ways of the world
than McCabe, she shows him the ropes, helps his business and -- though she'd never admit it -- falls in
love with him. Soon they're thriving. McCabe refuses an offer to buy out his casino and brothel and gunmen
are sent to eliminate him. The film slips, almost dreamily, toward its conclusion -- a shoot-out amidst a snowfall.
Altman casts his films well, and trusts his performers to bring out what he knows is inside of them.
Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde, Bulworth, Reds) and Christie (Doctor Zhivago, Shampoo) trade on their on - and
offscreen romance. Altman regulars René Auberjonois, Bert Remsen, John Schuck, and Michael Murphy likewise
bring with them associations from other Altman films. And so do Shelly Duvall, as a young widow who becomes
one of Mrs. Miller's girls, and Keith Carradine, as a young cowboy who catches her eye. Their brief commingling
is almost an audition for their next Altman film Thieves Like Us.
It's this kind of looseness that makes Altman movies special. And so do countless other small touches --
the muted color, the Leonard Cohen songs used as an informal score -- that add up to a movie experience
unlike any other. "There's poetry in me Constance," Beatty's McCabe declares to Christie's Mrs. Miller.
"Not fool enough to spell it out..." Indeed. -- reviewed by David Ehrenstein, at CDNow.
|Since June 2002 the film is also available on DVD.