2016 Blind Spots: McCabe & Mrs. Miller

John McCabe (Warren Beatty), a charismatic gambler, arrives in a mining town and decides to open a brothel. Shortly thereafter, savvy prostitute Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives on the scene and offers to use her experience to help McCabe run his business for a share of the profits. But just as their enterprise begins to thrive, a powerful mining company comes into town, threatening to destroy what they’ve built up.

If a man is fool enough to get into business with a woman, she ain’t going to think much of him.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s anti-western film, is one of the most realistic portrayals of the Old West in the genre. Unlike the western films in previous decades, when the genre was at its peak popularity, this film doesn’t glamorize the setting or its characters. The town itself is under construction throughout the film, with piles of wood waiting to be used on top of an ugly, muddy landscape. Even in the film’s climatic shoot-out, the townspeople aren’t around to witness it. The title characters also perverse expectations; John McCabe is presented as a tough outlaw, with rumors circling around him that he killed a man, while Constance Miller is initially seen as just a pretty woman. Miller proves to be a smart, assertive character, while it’s revealed that McCabe’s reputation exceeds him. Despite the differences in their personalities and ideologies, the unlikely pair become a dynamic duo as they try to conquer the business side of a western mining town.

Robert Altman is a director whose work I’ve always enjoyed, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller is no exception. It has all of his great trademarks mixed into the Western setting (in some ways John McCabe reminded me of Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye). Both Warren Beatty and Julie Christie also give stellar performances, and their chemistry is undeniable. This is now one of my top favorites of Altman’s films, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I saw it a few days ago. I look forward to seeing it again as it took me by surprise with its approach, though I really shouldn’t expect any less from Altman.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
Directed by: Robert Altman
Starring: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Julie Christie)
Rating: 4.5/5

Check out what other bloggers have discovered this month for the Blind Spots series here!

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9 thoughts on “2016 Blind Spots: McCabe & Mrs. Miller

  1. Pingback: Blindsided by THE THIN BLUE LINE | The Matinee | Cinematic Passion & Perspective

  2. This is indeed an amazing film and absolutely unflinching. (Great comparison of McCabe and Marlowe in The Long Goodbye.) If the New Year’s wacky drawing is accurate, we should see a Criterion release of this one sometime this year.

    • I thought about waiting until the Criterion release to watch it for the first time, but I was too eager to see it. Can’t wait to see what they do with the film though, it deserves the Blu-ray treatment.

      • I hope they’ll toss in lots of supplements. I would love to hear an archived recording of Altman’s thoughts on the film, the production, etc. A commentary with Beatty and Christie (and Keith Carradine) is probably too much to ask for, but we can dream, can’t we? 🙂

      • That’d be spectacular! I do hope they get commentary from at least one cast member, any of the three you mentioned would be great. But I’d most love to hear Altman’s own thoughts on the film and the western genre in general. Maybe our wishful thinking will pull through. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Films in 2016: February | cinema cities

  4. Excellent post. I can recall seeing this and Don’t Look Now on the same day and needing a slapstick comedy to cheer me up afterwards. Both are fantastic but wholly downbeat experiences that shake up their respective genres significantly.

    • Wow I can’t imagine watching both of those Julie Christie movies in the same day, Don’t Look Now is especially harrowing. You make a good point about how they both shake up their genres.

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