McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

R  |   |  Drama, Western  |  24 June 1971 (USA)
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Reviews: 121 user | 69 critic

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.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Antony Holland ...
Hugh Millais ...
Manfred Schulz ...
Jace Van Der Veen ...
Breed (as Jace Vander Veen)
Jackie Crossland ...


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 <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Drama | Western


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Parents Guide:






Release Date:

24 June 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Presbyterian Church Wager  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


SEK 867,412 (Sweden)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Actor Ned Beatty was at one point considered for a role in the film but director Robert Altman felt that Ned Beatty was a little too young for the role. 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 »


[first lines]
John McCabe: [muttering to himself] I told you... Think I'm stupid?... S'exactly what I said. Six, six of 'em...
See more »


The Stranger Song
Written and Performed by Leonard Cohen
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Haunting, wintry Western
20 April 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The first thing to know about Robert Altman's revisionist Western "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is that it takes place in Washington state. Typical Westerns are set in arid semi-deserts, full of blazing skies, blazing shotguns, and blazing tempers. Here, the dank, chilly Pacific Northwest permits, or rather demands, a different range of emotions: poignancy, regret, wintry melancholy. This film takes many risks, using Leonard Cohen's haunting ballads on the soundtrack and shooting scenes in very low light, but remarkably, everything coheres.

The film features Altman's trademark group scenes with overlapping dialogue, but not his typical interlocking plot lines. True to its title, the story centers on gambler and brothel owner John McCabe (Warren Beatty) and his shrewd business partner, Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie). Still, supporting characters always hover at the edges, taking part in vignettes that underline the movie's themes and occasionally provide some humor. In this way, the movie avoids the chaos and confusion of some Altman films, while always remaining aware that the main characters are part of a larger community. It's a perfect balance: both clear and complex.

Still, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is more a study of place and character than a narrative drama. The small, isolated settlement of Presbyterian Church is newly built, but already seems to molder. Ironically, McCabe's brothel is the most "civilized" place in town: it is built quickly and even gets painted, while the church remains half-finished. No families, parents or children live in this bleak town, just a bunch of weary miners and whores who delude and distract themselves. They all have dreams, but barely know how to achieve them; for this reason, they're sympathetic and all too human. McCabe is a true anti-hero, a guy who thinks he's a slick, wisecracking gambler, but his jokes fall flat and he lacks common sense. Mrs. Miller seems confident and shameless, but she secretly uses opium to dispel the pain of living.

At times, the movie is well aware of how it subverts the clichés of the Western genre to reflect what would really have happened out West. For instance, there is a final shootout, but it arises because of a quarrel over business—there are no Indians, no outlaws, and no sheriffs here! But "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is much more than just a clever exercise in revisionism; it's never overtly satirical or mean-spirited. It keenly observes its world and then comments on it, overlaying everything with a delicate sense of poignancy and loss. This is the kind of film that stays with you, but not because of sharp dialogue, beautiful images, or showy performances. Greater than the sum of its parts, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is memorable for the pervasive but understated mood that runs through every frame, creating a truly atmospheric and humanistic film.

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