McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Name your poison

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.

If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain't going to think much of him.
McCabe and Mrs Miller is directed by Robert Altman and Altman co-adapts the screenplay with Brian McKay. It's adapted from the novel McCabe written by Edmund Naughton. It stars Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, John Schuck, Keith Carradine, Rene Auberjonois and Bert Remson. Music is by Leonard Cohen and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.
A gambler and a prostitute become business partners in the remote mining town of Presbyterian Church, as their enterprise booms it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to buy the action.
Altman's grim and dirty slice of the Old West (Northwestern here to be precise) is a divisive picture in Western fan circles. In fact it's been said that it's more beloved by none Western fans and Altman acolytes than actual Western lovers. Put up as a flag bearer for the Anti-Western splinter, a mud and rags Oater for terminology purpose, there is no denying the quality on show across the board.
Set in bleak winter time, Altman and his crew pour on the atmospherics in practically every frame, with the director using his familiar film making trademarks (overlap conversations, realistic movement of characters in framing shots etc) for maximum impact. With Cohen warbling his plaintive tunes at each story juncture, there's a haunting beauty on offer that belies the narrative thrust fronted by losers and dreamers. While Zsigmond brilliantly photographs the extreme difference between the homely feel of the interiors, with that of the cold snowy wilderness outside the doors, where the muted colours ooze period flavour.
Purposely built for the film, the town of Presbyterian Church is a sea of mud, snow and timber, where the weather is perpetually dank, the surroundings enveloping chief protagonist McCabe like an unearthly portent. There are no great pyrotechnics here, and the story is being told in slow and deliberate time, which goes a long way to explaining why it is a divisive film, so any newcomers should be forewarned of this. Beatty and Christie in the title roles are superb, both defrocked of their star status beauty, they perform skilfully for realistic portrayals.
Not an easy watch, but always riveting and fascinating, it for sure is a piece of art. A picture worthy of revisits when the mood is set for total immersion. 8/10

Warner Bros. Pictures by Robert Altman, Edmund Naughton, Brian McKay.
Stars: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane.

Genres: Drama, Western

Keywords: based on novel or book brothel snow gambler mining town washington state brothel madam opium den early 1900s

07/08/1971

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