I must say that I prefer Altman’s pre-Nashville
films and McCabe and Mrs Miller
is the outstanding member of this group. Of course there are the characterizing elements such as the dry humour, the post-modern avant la lettre
genre playfulness, the layered sound design, the mix of theatricality and realism and so on but the single narrative thread is more rewarding dramatically than his later signature episodic style and with it Altman delivers one of the finest revisionist Westerns ever made.
Warren Beatty plays John McCabe, a cocksure gambler who arrives in the new-born frontier mining town of Presbyterian Church. Seeing an opportunity he decides to set up a whorehouse. Things are going nicely for him but then Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie) arrives and show him how to think big. But thinking big may not be what life intended for John McCabe
Based on the novel McCabe
by Edmund Naughton, who also gets a screenwriting credit McCabe and Mrs Miller
is an extraordinarily rich film that works on multiple levels – as a Western, as a comedy, as a love story and as a meditation on the ironies of life. It is beautiful to look at (cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond), features what is probably Beatty’s best screen performance and an unusual one (although not one of her best, her Cockney is surprisingly far from convincing) from Julie Christie whose extraordinary beauty lights up her relatively few scenes, the relationship (which also developed off-screen) between these two is realized with subtlety whilst the character-rich narrative unfolds with an unhurried laconicism and idiosyncratic style that speaks to the Zeitgeist of the early '70s.
Want something different?