“That man never killed anyone in his life.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Indeed, McCabe is often cited as the ultimate “anti-western”, as it foils the norms of this venerable cinematic genre in every way possible: McCabe is a foolish anti-hero; the town’s buildings (painstakingly hand-constructed in British Columbia by production designer Leon Ericksen and his crew) appear realistic rather than set-like; dirt and grime cover every possible surface; the three prostitutes McCabe “purchases” near the beginning of the film are, to put it mildly, decidedly uncomely; Chinese workers co-exist in a ghetto (and their vile exploitation as “cheap”, “renewable” manpower is duly noted); Mrs. Miller is a drug addict; and while McCabe and Mrs. Miller do become lovers (as expected), their relationship remains mercenary rather than romantic. It’s not until the film’s shoot-out ending that some of the genre’s conventions finally come into play.
In addition to its stunning appearance (both Ericksen’s sets and Vilmos Zsigmond’s luminous cinematography are justifiably lauded), McCabe and Mrs. Miller features, as usual in Altman’s films, a host of fine lead and supporting actors. Christie — boasting a broad Cockney accent and frizzy hair — “has never been lovelier” (she deserved her Oscar nomination), and Beatty is convincing as her shaggy-haired partner, who gets by on a combination of gumption and pure dumb luck (it’s Miller who notably possesses the brains of the enterprise). Keith Carradine gives one of his best non-leading performances as a luckless young visitor traveling through town, while William Devane as a lawyer and newcomer Hugh Millais as a heavy rise to the top as well in each of their tiny but memorable roles. Peary reviles Leonard Cohen’s score (he notes that Cohen’s singing “will get on your nerves”), but I think its folksy quality works; and as Peary writes, “at least Altman was trying to be different by using his songs”.
P.S. McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a film which sits even better after you’ve had some time to absorb it, and read a few critiques (see below for a handful of links, each of which reveals new and provocative insights) — but keep in mind that nearly every review gives away major spoilers.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)