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Set in winter in the Old West. Charismatic but dumb John McCabe arrives in a young Pacific Northwest town to set up a whorehouse/tavern. The shrewd Mrs. Miller, a professional madam, arrives soon after construction begins. She offers to use her experience to help McCabe run his business, while sharing in the profits. The whorehouse thrives and McCabe and Mrs. Miller draw closer, despite their conflicting intelligences and philosophies. Soon, however, the mining deposits in the town attract the attention of a major corporation, which wants to buy out McCabe along with the rest. He refuses, and his decision has major repercussions for him, Mrs. Miller, and the town. Written by
John J. Magee <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At the beginning of the film, there is a shot of McCabe lighting a cigarette before crossing the bridge. According to Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick loved that shot and called him up asking him: "How did you know you had it?" See more »
The steam engine was deployable very shortly after the fire was discovered, which would have been possible only if the engine had already been lit. See more »
[muttering to himself]
I told you... Think I'm stupid?... S'exactly what I said. Six, six of 'em...
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Few westerns have succeeded so strangely yet so completely in evoking a sense of place and time than Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller". In fact, it's not really a western at all; certainly not like any western I've ever seen. It's setting is the Pacific Northwest; cold, rainswept and often covered in snow. There are gunslingers but they are more like the professional hit men of gangster movies. When Altman isn't filming through the haze of a rain-drenched exterior he is filming through the haze of a dimly lit interior where darkness is more prevalent than light. Above all, it doesn't have a conventional western hero. McCabe is like a tragi-comic Everyman out of his depth and his territory in this largely alien environment yet canny enough to apply his savvy into transforming the landscape into something tangible, real and materialistically American.
In this respect it is a very modern film in spite of its setting. The fact that Altman doesn't care very much about convention or even about narrative, (it's story is perfunctory; Altman is more interested in 'observing'), makes it so. But then "MASH" wasn't a conventional war movie either just as "Nashville" wasn't really about the country music business.
As for McCabe himself, Beatty plays him with the same laconic, stammering mannerisms he applies to all his roles, (and which he seems either blessed or cursed with in real life), and which actually makes him a perfect Altman hero, (or anti-hero, if you prefer). Mrs Miller, on the other hand, seems coolly distracted from what's going on around her. Julie Christie plays up her Englishness adding another element to the alienation of her character, a stranger in a strange land indeed, while in the foreground the songs of Leonard Cohen seem to hover like warm blankets, cosily familiar and comforting even at their bleakest. They could have been written for the film.
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