McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Directed By Robert Altman
I am slowly warming up to appreciate Warren Beatty. He's best with a beard and way too American and sweet without it (except for in Reds, where he is just fine). Julie Christie is divine. Robert Altman and the 1970s; good good good.
Last time I watched McCabe & Mrs.Miller it blew past me leaving almost no trace. The town hookers were sympathetic, McCabe idiotic, and the end scene gripping. Somehow I didn't care though. This time I'm a fan: Altman's theater-like use of natural sound; the incredible set of frontier homes in the harsh winter snow and slosh. There is a sense in watching this film that the camera just entered at one point and leaves at another, but this village will go on living its very real life. Beatty's McCabe comes to the village with bravado, he builds a gambling house and a whore house, but then big business turns up in the village demanding to buy McCabe out of his business. Unlike usually in these movies, there is no gang of villagers supporting McCabe. There are no over-confident gunmen here, just people minding their own business. In contrast to Mrs. Miller (the mistress of the whore house played by Julie Christie), we learn that McCabe is actually more stubborn than smart. Mrs.Miller is the one making suggestions on how to make more money and the one who realizes that McCabe's life is in danger because he refused to sell his enterprise. Of course, a kind of love has developed between the two here, but a lose one with opium, liquor and circumstance in the middle. Nothing romantic here, although I am beginning to feel romantic about this American frontier life described here, and the 1970's as a cinematic era.
PS. I am worried that soon I publicly love all Westerns from this decade as well...
One of my favorite Robert Altman films and alongside The Outlaw Josey Wales and Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid one of the best Westerns of the 1970's.
Warren Beatty plays the McCabe of the title, a cocky business man who builds a mining town and starts a whore house, which Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) runs. As the arrangement between McCabe and Miller becomes deeper than just business, McCabe's unwillingness to sell up to a large company leads to disaster.
Reasons to love this: a cockney Julie Christie, Leonard Cohen's soundtrack, Warren Beatty's hat and Vilmos Zsigmond's amazing cinematography.
This is still an Altman film and despite the big stars (Christie & Beatty) it's the little incidental scenes, the in jokes, the way the camera just observes that makes this film so special. People talk over each other and you're never quite sure what the focus of the scene is. Take a deep breath and realize this was once mainstream cinema.
This has atmosphere, this has realist beauty. Altman's Western is underrated and brilliant.