100 of 106 people found the following review helpful
I have been waiting for years for a DVD version of Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs.Miller" to come out.This is my all time favorite western (or should I say anti-western).It is a anti-western because there are no heroic John Wayne types in ten gallon hats.Instead we are shown a weary frontier world populated by immigrants who are trying to eek out an existence. The film is about an itinerant gambler named McCabe (well played by Warren Beatty) who comes to a muddy, primitive, frontier mining town with the ideal of getting into the business of supplying the local miners with whiskey and women.He is soon approached by Mrs.Miller (a hard as nails prostitute played by Julie Christie) to go into a partnership to build a proper bordello.She supplies the women and the management, while he supplies the house.All goes well until McCabe is approached by a large mining corporation to buy out his holdings.When negotiations break down, the corporation sends a murderous posse.This film is arguably Robert Altman's masterpiece.The story is something you might hear by a midnight campfire. There are no real heroes, yet these characters keep you infinitly interested.Beatty and Christie are brilliant in the lead roles, playing two very flawed people, who have nobody to blame but themselves for their downfall.The supporting cast is excellent giving the viewer possibly a dozen other mini stories in the background.The cinematography in this movie is beautiful as it shows this drama being played out in the warm amber glow of gas lamps and fireplaces. The soundtrack to this movie is packed with the wonderful music of singer-songwriter Lenard Cohen. His world weary voice perfectly matches the film's dirty, frontier town and its inhabitants.The DVD to this film supplies extras which includes Robert Altman's commentary, a short documentry and a trailer.The dialogue track to this movie has always been somewhat muddy and indistinct.It was a real joy to be able to use the DVD's subtitles feature to figure out the content of many of the background conversations.I love this movie and I have seen it multiple times over the years.It is a beautiful but haunting film which stays with you long after its over.
68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2002
One of my favorite films of all-time, Robert Altman's best, and perhaps Warren Beatty's best.
As others have said, this film explores the dark, realist side of the American West. However, unlike other anti-Westerns of the era like The Wild Bunch, it does so in a hauntingly beautiful, even lyrical (albeit melancholic) way, augmented by Leonard Cohen's perfectly matched songs and the atmospheric cinematography.
There are the usual Western archetypes and themes - the gunslinger, the [prostitute], the church (symbolizing redemption and civilization), etc. - but Altman turns them upside-down. The would-be hero is an insecure bumbler who lets the whore get under his skin and dies, unceremoniously, in a snowbank. There is no honor among the thieves - they shoot people for no particular reason. The church burns. And, unlike most Westerns, the film is set not in the desert, but in the foggy Pacific Northwest, adding to the murky, morally ambiguous atmosphere, which is further enhanced by the occasionally inaudible dialogue.
This understated film has none of the overwrought archness of Altman's later work, so those who have been put off by same (as I have) need not worry - these are not merely clever celebrity cameos, but characters who live and breathe and make us care about what happens to them. The film is sombre but has many naturally comic moments (thanks to Beatty's usual bumbling loverboy persona) and is never merely studied or self-important. Similarly, for those who might be skeptical, Cohen's music is his earliest, most affecting, and least pompous.
I have a very sensitive BS meter and it never buzzes during this remarkably beautiful and affecting movie. For those who really care about film, I can't recommend it highly enough.
83 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2004
I've got to admit I'm a little surprised to read the negative critiques of McCABE & MRS. MILLER here. In my opinion this is one of the five greatest movies ever, in any genre, and I'm not an Altman fan.
Anyway, here's my response to some of the criticism.
This film has too much realism - I watched the movie with the audio commentary by Robert Altman and producer David Foster (which is good, as far as those things go), and the short documentary on the making of McCABE & MRS. MILLER, which I believe was made shortly after the movie. The realism, in my opinion, is what gives this movie depth and texture. The town was being built while the movie was being shot (the film was shot in sequence), and the buildings are not facades. They are real buildings. Interior shots were done in them and not in studio.
It's pointless, boring and pretentious - I think because Altman focuses so much on characters and their motivations the viewer may miss the plot. The plot here is pretty simple - At the turn of the last century a man builds a gambling/whore house in a small mining town. An astute madam joins him and in short order the venture is a success. Such a success, in fact, that an outside concern wants to buy him out. Two men are sent to the small town to negotiate with him, and he drunkenly refuses their offer. They leave and the outside concern takes the next step, which is to employ three hired killers to do away with McCabe.
I suppose letting characters evolve and refraining from throwing plot points at us can seem pretentious. To me, it simply felt like the director wasn't talking down to me. Altman says somewhere in the voice over that movies are canvases to him, and he likes working in the corners. That's not everybody's cup of tea.
And the ending.... Well, it ain't supposed to end like that, and even those of us who love the movie wish it had ended on a more positive note. We wish it only because we've become involved with the characters. But, if it had ended differently, if Mrs. Miller hadn't made that midnight run to Chinatown, we probably wouldn't be talking about it 30+ years on.
Dismal story, dismal photography - Altman speaks some about the "look" of the movie. The cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, "flashed" the negatives to give it a daguerreotype feel. Flashing a negative is briefly exposing it to light before developing it. I hadn't noticed until I rewatched it the other day how the look changes after the pivot point - the failed negotiations. Before that the film looks warm and soft-focused, after that it acquires a harsh, white, sharp-focused look. The look, from set design to photography, is perfect.
McCABE & MRS. MILLER killed the genre - That's kind of like saying Pete Rose destroyed baseball. I'm a huge fan of Westerns, from Gene Autry to John Wayne to Clint Eastwood and all stops in between, and I think this fits comfortably in the genre. I certainly think McCabe's response to the threat at the end of the film is truer to reality than most. When you got skilled bad guys tracking you, you hide in the corner and shot them in the back if you get the chance.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 4, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
McCabe and Mrs. Miller is yet another brillant work from Robert Altman who along with Scorsese ranks as the two greatest filmmakers America has produced. Next to "Nashville", this is Altman's best film. One of Altman's devices is to take an established genre of filmmaking and turn it completely inside out and reexamine it. Here, Altman has made a Western (or is is an Anti-Western)like no other. This neither looks nor feels like any other film I've seen. Warren Beatty gives the performance of his career here(you would'nt know he and Altman were at odds the entire shoot) and I will forever remember the lovely Julie Christie as Mrs. Miller, the tough talking shrewd and business smart prostitute. Altman's sensational style of filmmaking perfectly suits the material, his remarkable use of overlapping dialogue demands multiple viewings, and Vilmos Zsigmond's incredible, ususual cinematography is endlessly fascinating to look at. And ,as with most of Altman's work, one can interpet the film a number of ways. Is it a tough look at achieving the American Dream, or is it a study of American frontierism/individualism vs. community/democracy? Is it (as one previous reviewer commented)an indictment of Capitalism and a look at the way Big Business encroached on the frontier and a simple way of life. Is it a study of loneliness and heroism? The answer is yes to all of these. To top it off, Altman's use of Leonard Cohen's songs to accompany the film adds to the overall sense of melancholy, it fits it beautifully. If I sound like I'm gushing, I am, great films have that effect. See this now!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2009
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
A five star film for story, cinematography and music. However, the image quality of the transfer is very problematic. There is a "grain" on many of the shots which is not film grain. Real film grain constantly changes instant by instant as the individual silver halide particles in each frams differs. By contrast, on this transfer, the "grain" is unchanging, static and persists between shots. It is almost as if the film was processed through a screen when striking the final master (which may be true, but I have never read about this post-production technique being used). Also, in the opening sequence, when the titles are running, there is a noticable dust mote (really, a hair-like curling line) on the left side of the frame, which finally is cleared out of the gate after about 10 seconds or so). There is also noticable softness of the entire image on some shots, to be followed by other shots where the image is clear, which I find detracting.
Finally, the sound quality on the analogue tracks is very poor. I don't have a Dolby digital decoder, so I cannot comment on the digital tracks.
However, even with these caveats, I am so very happy to have this film (finally) in my collection. Watching it a day after Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (Criterion Collection DVD) is also very enlightening. Whether or not Altman was influenced by Kurosawa, there are elements of the story, the production values (e.g, rain in Seven Samurai, snow in McCabe to highten tension in the final showdown), and camera work which are common to both films.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
C'mon now, fess up: did you ever really believe in John Wayne as a cowboy? Or any of the other actors from 30s, 40s and 50s westerns? With their clean shirts, their white hats, their crisp scarves and their middle-America ethics, they were about as convincing as Harrison Ford as the president of the United States. The westerns of times past were about what we wanted the west to be, not what it was. Because the real west wasn't pretty and it wasn't romantic. It stank.
With this movie I was able to believe in the western setting for the first time. Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (from a novel by Edmund Naughton) not only deconstructs the cliches--the lone hero standing up to lots of bad guys, the hooker with a heart of gold, the town that pulls together--it suggests far more plausible realities about how the west was won. Altman's town is in business for its own survival. While, as Roger Ebert points out, "everybody knows everybody," and has long before the picture started, there's no team spirit here. Each character is a mercenary, and no one is noble. That's probably how it was in the real west if you wanted to survive past next Tuesday. That's probably why the film focuses so much on the church--it's a little bastion of relief after all the hypocracy that goes on from Monday through Saturday.
Early on Beatty's McCabe says he is trying to get away from "partners," people coming into his life and telling him what to do. One of Altman's central points is you cannot do that in a world that mirrors an organism, where many parts and not the single cell are what determine survival. More even than Fred Schepisi's excellent and underrated Barbarosa (1976), this western is about the anti-hero. Or maybe the non-hero. We sense McCabe will not escape the men who want his business interest from the first time they meet--everyone seems to figure that out but him. Mrs. Miller also seems to be fleeing something--we're never sure what exactly--but she appears out of whole cloth looking for McCabe and says she was "sent" to look for him, not really explaining anything with that explanation. Her motivation for hooking up with him remains elusive to me. She could have done better elsewhere. --Or maybe she just needed a man to boss around. Women like that.
The rest of the cast do what ensemble casts do in Robert Altman films: they advance the director's bird's eye view of his surroundings. From the quirky Shelley Duvall to the low-key John Schuck, they inhabit a brutal world, both emotionally and physically. Everyone and everything is dirty. Nights are dark. Comforts are few, and are mostly found in the bottle and in intercourse, both social and carnal. Is it any wonder these people care only about themselves?
Not that they see themselves that way. At the end, when McCabe desperate needs help, there's no one to give it, because there's simultaneously a fire at the local church, and everyone is far more worried about saving this symbol of goodness than doing an actual good deed themselves. Thus another western cliche is popped: feeling good, not doing good, is what these people wanted.
And that was the message I took away from McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Towns--and business empires, and everything else--are founded by tough, soulless and hypocritical people who persevere and are anything but the idealized symbols they become much later, courtesy of history. The west of John Ford, of William Wyler, with tall cowboys and god-fearin' townsfolk, is comforting. It's a Disneyland vision of how we came to be, with a higher purpose as part of the mix. But whether it's big corporations or big towns, their survival was the result of violence, amoral choices and pure survival instinct. It's that instinct that McCabe, despite being his own sort of anti-hero, lacks, because he's at heart a romantic even though he tries to present himself as something else. ("McCabe never killed a man in his life," one character observes, probably correctly.) He pays the ultimate price for this. Wal-Mart comes to town. That's part of the American story too. We subscribe to this myth that America is the land of rugged individualism, but in fact America embodies the collective corporate more probably than any other non-totalitarian country on the face of the earth. Or maybe even counting totalitarian countries--it's just a different kind of totalitarianism. Freedom, Altman tells us, is a myth, or at least the type of freedom Americans always hold to be theirs and theirs uniquely. It's not the kind of film to leave you with a smile as you walk out of the theater, but then, most of Robert Altman's movies aren't. In a way, this film is the antithesis to Wyler's The Big Country, which tells us that there's plenty of everything for everybody, and everyone can have his piece. In the 1950s, that seemed true enough. By the time we reached the 1970s, however, the world was a different place.
The film is gorgeously shot by one of my favorite cinematographers, Vilmos Zsigmund. It's a cold beauty, but if you can find poetry in mud puddles and cloudy skies, you will be impressed. (This is one of the few movies I've ever seen where rain is actually *beautiful.*) The extremely low-key lighting matches the mood, and makes us feel cut off from the rest of the world. (I don't know why Gordon Willis got slammed so much in Godfather for his lack of light when this movie was made a year earlier and is every bit as dark.) Leonard Cohen's songs are a perfect complement. Their contemporary feel and lyrics tell us that the western genre is being deconstructed, once and for all.
For some people, McCabe and Mrs. Miller may not be their cup of tea. It's a film that yields more after subsequent viewings. There's not a lot of plot, and a few elements that are there still baffle me--the shooting of one coyboy in cold blood for no apparent reason, for example. The film takes its time to get from point A to point B, and in this post-Star Wars world that may prove frustrating to some. Still, for those who take their time with it, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a beautiful poem about the west, both the real one and the one that exists solely in our imaginations.
The print is good, though not pristine. There are scratches and nicks, which is the film's fault, but there's also fuzziness and a low-contrast, slightly washed-out image, which is not: Altman *liked* his movies to look that way. He deliberately flashed (slightly exposed) his film and shot with fog filters on the lenses to give the picture a rough-and-tumble documentary look. (He also did this with The Long Goodbye, Nashville and MASH, and other films. In more recent pictures he stopped doing it.) The music track sounds fine, but sometimes the dialogue is murky and hard to understand--even for Altman. Supposedly he was asked to clean up some of the sound elements and for some reason refused. The trailer is, surprisingly, anamorphic. (You won't care unless you have an HDTV.) There's not much for extras, just an Altman commentary (that's pretty good for once) and a short TV behind-the-scenes documentary. I liked this film a lot--to me it's another one of those great "70s sensibility" flicks like Chinatown and Godfather and Network--but I can understand how it might be an acquired taste, especially today.
Thoughts after watching the film again, 5/20/09:
I was struck this time how much this film is like MASH, in both obvious stylistic ways but also in structure and content. In fact, you could argue (this would make an interesting college thesis paper) that Mc&MM is largely a downbeat, pessimistic remake of MASH. You have the outsider come into a town that's long established, filled with colorful people (many of them played by the same actors as MASH) living on the frontier edge. He brings changes to the way things are done. A woman (Hot Lips) enters and brings "nurses" with her. The stranger is a rebel who chooses to go his own way. Two major differences: this rebel has no sidekick, no Trapper, no Duke. And the ending is bitter and tragic. Far more sobering than two wacky doctors who shake up the 4077th.
As with MASH, you feel in this film that the town has existed long prior to our hero's arrival, and will go on long after his "departure." Altman does this incredibly well with his films--creates a world that feels like it's already there and thus wasn't really created. I recall that the day before Larry Kasdan started shooting The Big Chill he had his actors live in the house and stay in character to prepare, so that it would really feel as though they were living there and it wasn't just a set they arrived at every morning. Similarly in Mc&MM, the cast and crew lived in the shacks constructed for the film, which were fully functional. Some writer/directors give us tight plots, some give us lone characters, some action extravaganzas. Altman creates whole worlds without seeming to do anything at all. His film never feel rehearsed. They just seem to "happen" in front of the camera. That's his gift to filmmaking, and one that, when it works, I personally can't get enough of.
Final thought: the 1970s were a wonderful time, artistically, where concepts such as heroism, individuality, responsibility, and identity were questioned. Today we're too busy battling CGI monsters. Pity. I was just reading in today's New York Times about how people today are more than ever uncertain about the future and their place in it, and how this is causing increasing levels of anxiety according to therapists and mental healthcare givers. I also note the utter lack of reflection in our literary and cultural lives. Connection? Could be...
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This film stunned me when I first viewed it in 1971. I was 20 and living dangerously in L.A. No attachments, evenings spent riding a Norton on Malibu Cyn Hwy, and seeing how much I could cram into everyday's experience.
Three things in this movie stopped me in my tracks. The music, by Leonard Cohen, the cinematography by Vilmos Szigmond, and the precise control of Robert Altman.
Now, 34 years later, this film still arrests me. The fact that the filmed town 'grew' as the movie developed, that the cast members lived the life in the environment that they portrayed, the willful but gentle portrayl of human weakness, warmth, and prejudice, causes me to consistantly appreciate the salvation that people seek, in whatever form, to make them whole somehow. I'm sure a lot of little criticisms can be made for the film effects, the sparse storyline, the staid pacing, but this is an 'old' film.
Looking at it now and again, I still can feel the rain turning to sleet, I can smell the lousy interiors of the buildings, I can feel the damned mud under my boots, I can feel the isolation of McCabe as he faces his murderers in the end. They surely do not make movies like this anymore, nor have for a long time.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
One reviewer here insists that if you buy this DVD you will not get the basic movie, you'll only be getting a lot of commentary. This is nonsense - this DVD offers the basic movie, plus plenty of commentary if you want it, etc. - all the usual good stuff you want in a DVD.
Having taken care of that, I just want to express my undying admiration for this film. It's probably the only movie I make a point to watch annually, usually in the autumn or early winter. (This ain't a summer picture in any way, shape or form - it's saturated with the feel of bad weather.)
Every moment of "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" works for me. The bridge encounter involving Keith Carradine is my nomination for the single most stunning sequence in the history of the movies. The music - my God - here I go again with another superlative - I really can't think of a film that better unites image and music unless maybe it's 10 or 15 minutes of "Yellow Submarine." Maybe the opening of "2001," OK, that too. Robert Altman once said in an interview in the San Jose Mercury News that he was listening to Leonard Cohen's music in Paris while he was working on the script. While he was working on the script! The music informed the writing! It's an organic part of the whole deal! And on the DVD it's gorgeously clear and vivid. Thank you, Robert Altman. And Leonard Cohen. And Brian McKay and Edmund Naughton. And Warren Beatty and Julie Christie too, and the Mighty Altman Art Players, wherever you have scattered. Your work here will live forever.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
This is, I think, my favorite film of all time. It has everything: romance, comedy, suspense, gangsters, and the most archetypal of all American movie symbols, the Western shoot-out. And it's real. You are not watching actors reciting lines in a script; you are watching the first thousand people or so forging an American community. You are watching the town you grew up in when it was a seed.
It puzzles as much as reveals: just what is Constance Miller feeling for McCabe? McCabe for sure loves her a lot, enough to humble himself and pay money for sex. Would she ever do the same for him? Why is saving the church cause for jubilation among the townsfolk when apparently none of them felt connected at all to it? And my favorite puzzle of all: how on earth did Pudgy McCabe get the reputation of a fearsome gunslinger?
The first puzzle doesn't interest me very much. It's one of those character things that's often good to leave in limbo. But the second and third puzzles speak to the heart of the United States, for I think they have definitive answers in terms of what Altman was saying with this film.
As for the saving of the church: the rampant lack of real spiritual feeling among Americans is laid bare, for while the church is being saved, McCabe is being stalked. Americans don't put into practice those churchly ideas that they all claim to stand for, while at the same time they give their all to protect the symbol of the idea they are neglecting. You get to know these townsfolk intimately during the film, and you really like them. It's not as if they were evil, but Christian ideals are just words to them, as they are to many Christians today. How else to explain the rabid Christian right's war-mongering image over the years?
The third puzzle explodes the American myth of the Western hero. Pudgy McCabe, the feared gunslinger, turns out to be a bumbling character who shot a man with a derringer. Hardly Billy the Kid (who was hardly Billy the Kid either), but some of the stories circulating about Pudgy McCabe are ones of mythic proportions. The tall bounty hunter is wrong when he says, "That man never killed anybody." Americans will make their heroes out of lies if need be. The circulated story becomes the truth, and the truth becomes a lie. I believe Altman was speaking not simply of Western heroes, but American heroes in general. They are stories only. How else to explain Jessica Lynch and almost all of the politicians who crawl around in Washington, D.C.? We approve stories over truth, we approve symbols over substance. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a damning indictment of the American heart, showing us up for our lack of spiritual depth.
Also, the novel McCabe, by Edmund Naughton, is interesting to read if you are a fan of the Altman film.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There may be spoilers.
Set in the Pacific Northwest in 1902, Robert Altman's "anti-western film" as he called it, is unconventional to say the least. As the lone figure of John McCabe (Warren Beatty) rides into the new town of Presbyterian Church in a cold rain, you can't but wonder what fate awaits. It turns out he's a gambler and a business man, muttering under his breath something about not letting it happen again. We can assume he wore out his welcome at his last stop.
As we find out later in the movie, gambling really isn't McCabe's strong suit. But public relations is. He captures the hearts of the local 125 towns folk, who are mostly men working in a mine, by buying rounds of whiskey even when he's losing at cards. Eventually, he decides to call it home and commences to build a saloon with the sideline of also operating a whorehouse.
As Altman slowly progresses the story, based on Edmund Naughton's novel, it takes a turn when McCabe is introduced to upstart hooker who believes that McCabe needs her to run the brothel. In fact he does. Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie) will occasionally do a trick, but only for $5 rather than the meager $1.50 the other girls charge. She charges the same to McCabe, now her partner, who is an overnight regular.
As the business prospers, McCabe is confronted by a couple negotiators of the mining company who want to buy him out. This is where McCabe overshoots his gambling acumen. With what appears to be a fair offer, McCabe shoots down the offer and counters with something unreasonable, assuming that the negotiations would continue. They don't. The bluff didn't work. In fact, the company sends a trio of killers to remove McCabe as an obstacle.
In perhaps the most memorable scene, the youngest of the trio known as the Kid (Manfred Schulz) decides to have fun with a young guy (Keith Carradine) there for just the ladies. On a walking bridge over a creek, the innocent man is gunned down in cold blood by the Kid. Point made. There is no law enforcement in the town, and McCabe, even with a hint that he may be a gunslinger himself, is no match for the 3 hired guns.
Still, left with no alternative, McCabe is able to almost pull off a win. Well technically he won the battle but paid a high price. The highest. With a fine supporting cast including Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck and Corey Fischer, Altman weaves an authentic time piece and a strong film that stands the test of time. Seen on DVD, the technical aspects of the film beg for Blu ray.