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McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

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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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(novel), (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
... John McCabe
... Constance Miller
... Sheehan
... The Lawyer
... Smalley
... Mr. Elliott
... Bart Coyle
... Ida Coyle
... Cowboy
... Sears
Antony Holland ... Hollander
Hugh Millais ... Butler
Manfred Schulz ... Kid
Jace Van Der Veen ... Breed (as Jace Vander Veen)
Jackie Crossland ... Lily
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Storyline

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 <magee@helix.mgh.harvard.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Purveyors of Paradise. See more »

Genres:

Drama | Western

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

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Release Date:

24 June 1971 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

McCabe & Mrs. Miller  »

Filming Locations:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.40 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Star Julie Christie walks through another Robert Altman film, Nashville, in 1975, in which Kieth Carradine (Cowboy) and Shelley Duvall (Ida) again fall into bed together. Carradine as (Tom) a lothario "former member of a trio" spends most of his on-screen time on the bed with various other women in the cast. Another connection, in Christie's cameo she is introduced to the character played by Michael Murphy, who is later asked if he ever worked with her before, an inside joke as Murphy plays "Sears" in McCabe. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

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

Referenced in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Girl in Gold Boots (1999) See more »

Soundtracks

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

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User Reviews

Cold And Poetic
13 October 2006 | by See all my reviews

As a Western this film is fascinating for what it does not contain. There are no sweeping vistas of the Great Plains, no Indians, no cacti, no cowboy hats. There is no sheriff, no broiling sun, and no corny music. And unlike most Westerns, which are plot driven, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is less about plot than about the tone or mood of the frontier setting.

The film takes place in the Pacific Northwest. The weather is cold, cloudy, and inclement. You can hear the wind howling through tall evergreens. And Leonard Cohen's soft, poetic music accentuates the appropriately dreary visuals. In bucking cinematic tradition, therefore, this film deserves respect, because it is at least unusual, and perhaps even closer in some ways to the ambiance of life on the American frontier than our stereotyped notions, as depicted in typical John Wayne movies.

Not that the plot is unimportant. Warren Beatty plays John McCabe, a two-bit gambler who imports several prostitutes to a tiny town, in hopes of making money. Julie Christie plays Mrs. Miller, a prostitute with a head for business. She hears about McCabe's scheme, and approaches McCabe with an offer he can't refuse. Soon, the two are in business together, but complications ensue when word gets around that McCabe may be a gunslinger who has killed someone important. Mrs. Miller is clearly a symbol of the women's liberation movement, and the film's ending is interesting, in that context.

"McCabe & Mrs. Miller" is a vintage Altman film, in that you can hear background chatter, in addition to the words of the main character. It's Altman's trademark of overlapping dialogue. The film's acting is fine. Both Beatty and Christie perform credibly in their roles.

The visuals have a turn-of-the-century look, with a soft, brownish hue. Costumes and production design are elaborate, and appear to be authentic. The film is very dark, so dark in some scenes that I could barely make out the outline of human figures. In those scenes, I think they went overboard with the ultra dim lighting.

Strictly atypical for the Western genre, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" provides a pleasant change from cinematic stereotypes, and conveys a different perspective on life in the Old West. It's a quality production, one that has Robert Altman's directorial stamp all over it. In that sense, it's more like a cinematic painting than a story. And the painting communicates to the viewer that life on the American frontier was, at least in some places, cold and dreary, and had a quietly poetic quality to it.


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