McCabe & Mrs. Miller
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McCabe & Mrs. Miller

4.1 12
Director: Robert Altman

Cast: Robert Altman, Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, René Auberjonois


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Of all Robert Altman's early films released on DVD (M*A*S*H, Nashville), perhaps none was more anticipated than 1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. This was the esteemed director's revisionist anti-Western, part of his seemingly systematic deconstruction of genre throughout the 1970s ("I…  See more details below


Of all Robert Altman's early films released on DVD (M*A*S*H, Nashville), perhaps none was more anticipated than 1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. This was the esteemed director's revisionist anti-Western, part of his seemingly systematic deconstruction of genre throughout the 1970s ("I'm still chasing genres today," Altman says in the commentary track). Set in the bleak, rainy Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century, the film received critical accolades and was frequently singled out for its stunningly beautiful photography and difficult-to-decipher dialogue. If you've ever struggled through watching the darkly lit film on video or on TV, the Warner Home Video DVD will be a much-welcomed revelation. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen picture still exhibits some graininess and darkness, but that's to be expected given how the film was shot (using minimal and natural light) and the technique of "flashing" (very briefly exposing the negative to light in order to achieve an antiquated, sepia-like visual effect) that Altman and his cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond employed. Many of the outdoor shots linger in the mind like paintings: McCabe (Beatty) crossing a bridge during the credit sequence, a church steeple rising into the sky at sunset, the snow-swept landscapes surrounding the growing town of Presbyterian Church, where McCabe establishes himself as proprietor of a brothel and eventually partners with Mrs. Miller (Christie). Despite the predominance of dark hues (browns, greens), the colors stand out well enough; for a revealing before-and-after test, just compare the DVD transfer to the original film footage shown in the making-of documentary. As for the sound, the Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track contains some unfortunate hiss, yet it nicely serves the omnipresent sound of wind and rain, as well as the atmospheric Leonard Cohen songs that comprise the soundtrack. Bonus features include the theatrical trailer plus the previously mentioned documentary and commentary by Altman and producer David Foster. Recorded separately, the two commentary tracks don't ever fluidly merge, which is somewhat distracting but also provides some humorous juxtapositions, such as when Foster praises the novel on which the film was based while Altman derides it as "no great piece of writing." Elsewhere, Foster gushes about Altman, and Altman -- big surprise -- complains about producers. However, there are some interesting anecdotes about the filming of the movie that make the commentary worth checking out. What makes this DVD so memorable, though, is the look and feel of this classic from a classic era of American film.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Kryssa Schemmerling
The greatest of Robert Altman's '70s genre revisions (which include The Long Goodbye and Thieves Like Us), McCabe and Mrs. Miller is a film steeped in '60s counterculture idealism that lays to rest heroic myths of the Old West. Warren Beatty stars as McCabe, a slightly dim but goodhearted gambler who, with the help of a no-nonsense, opium-smoking madam, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie in an Oscar-nominated performance), sets up a successful brothel in a Pacific Northwest mining town. Taking the classic western's essential plot element -- a loner at odds with established society (in this case, a ruthless mining corporation) -- Altman spins a poetic vision of the frontier that is at once romantic and antiromantic, unsentimental in its take on love yet as delicate in texture as a Victorian valentine. Eschewing the dusty, wide-open spaces typical of the genre, McCabe and Mrs. Miller offers the most authentic and perfectly realized depiction of the Old West ever put on film. The smoky warmth of cramped and dimly lit interiors is contrasted to brilliant effect with rain-and-snow-shrouded exteriors, particularly during the final, unforgettable shootout, wherein McCabe confronts the mining company mercenaries sent to kill him. Shot in desaturated color by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond, the film has the hazy beauty of an antique photograph underscored by the haunting strains of Leonard Cohen's mournful ballads. Every character, down to the most minor, feels fully rounded and alive, and such Altman regulars as Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine, and John Schuck all shine. Turning the whore-with-a-golden-heart cliché on its head, Christie's Mrs. Miller is intelligent and enigmatic, with an emotional frigidity mirrored in the icy landscape: She makes the besotted McCabe pay for her sexual favors right up to the end, yet reveals heartbreaking flashes of tenderness and compassion. And Beatty, in his finest performance, is both funny and moving as a man in love with a woman he can't comprehend. Lyrical and deeply sad, McCabe and Mrs. Miller reinvented the western for the 1970s and became one of the enduring masterpieces of American cinema.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
Deconstructing the Western, Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) defied conventional myth-making with an oblique narrative steeped in Vietnam-era mistrust of American institutions. Shooting on location in Canada on a haphazard set built as filming progressed, Altman upended Western clichés of heroic Progress in an environment that was authentically rough, even as it evoked the muddy mires of Vietnam. Warren Beatty's McCabe was more buffoonish dreamer than powerful gunfighter, while Julie Christie's business-minded hooker Mrs. Miller had a heart of opium; Altman's widescreen zoom shots and soundtrack of overlapping voices and haunting Leonard Cohen songs downplayed McCabe's presence amid peripheral action and characters. The incursion of corporate interests on McCabe's success seems almost incidental, but the sudden eruption of pointless violence and a lawyer's hypocrisy about freedom and sacrifice reveal McCabe's doom. With cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's grainy, desaturated colors lending the interiors an orange-brown glow that contrasted with the hazy green-gray exteriors, Altman eschewed heroic frontier vistas in favor of a murky, hallucinatory beauty, particularly in McCabe's snowbound, eerily quiet final shoot-out. Confounding viewers with its layered soundtrack and tonal shifts, McCabe & Mrs. Miller failed to catch on; it has since come to be seen as one of the period's best revisionist Westerns and one of the most poetic and elegiac genre revisions of the 1970s.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Warner Home Video
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[Dolby Digital Mono]

Special Features

Feature-length audio commentary by director Robert Altman and producer David Foster; Behind-the-scenes documentary

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Warren Beatty John McCabe
Julie Christie Constance Miller
René Auberjonois Sheehan
William Devane Lawyer
Shelley Duvall Ida Coyle
John Schuck Smalley
Corey John Fischer Mr. Elliott
Keith Carradine Cowboy
Manfred Shulz Kid
Jace Vander Veen Breed
Jackie Crossland Lily
Elizabeth Murphy Kate
Tom Hill Archer
Linda Sorenson Blanche
Elizabeth Knight Birdie
Janet Wright Eunice
Maisie Hoy Maisie
Wayne Robson Bartender
Jack Riley Riley Quinn
Robert Fortier Town Drunk
Wayne Grace Bartender
Graeme Campbell Bill Cubbs
J.S. Johnson J.J.
Joe Clarke Joe Shortreed
Terence Kelly Quigley
Don Francks Buffalo
Rodney Gage Summer Washington
Lili Francks Mrs. Washington
Eric Schneider Townsperson
Claudine Melgrave Townsperson
Gordon Robertson Townsperson
Jeremy Newson Jeremy Berg
Hugh Millais Butler
Bert Remsen Bart Coyle
Antony Holland Hollander
Michael Murphy Sears
Harry Frazier Andy Anderson, Sheehan's People

Technical Credits
Robert Altman Director,Producer,Screenwriter
Mitchell Brower Producer
Ed Butterworth Makeup
Leonard Cohen Score Composer
David Foster Producer
Bob Eggenweiler Associate Producer
Leon Ericksen Production Designer
Robert Jiras Makeup
Albert J. Locatelli Art Director
Lou Lombardo Editor
Brian McKay Screenwriter
Phyllis Newman Makeup
Philip Thomas Art Director
William Thompson Sound/Sound Designer
Tommy Thompson Asst. Director
Marcel Vercoutere Special Effects
Vilmos Zsigmond Cinematographer

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Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Credits [4:43]
2. Five-Card Stud [4:48]
3. Businessman or Gunfighter? [6:14]
4. $80 for a Chippy [2:44]
5. Eying the Merchandise [5:13]
6. No Partners or Knives [3:03]
7. Constance Miller [3:31]
8. Her Proposal [5:06]
9. A Right to Know [3:51]
10. Mrs. Miller's Women [3:17]
11. Open for Business [2:09]
12. Bookkeeping [4:12]
13. Street Brawl [2:54]
14. Mining Company Offer [4:52]
15. A Warning [3:04]
16. More Offers [5:09]
17. A Funeral [4:12]
18. "Who Wants to Be Next?" [2:46]
19. Bed and Board [2:29]
20. Deal to Be Made? [3:20]
21. McCabe's Price [6:27]
22. Poetry in Me [2:44]
23. Future Hero [4:44]
24. Cowboy's Last Crossing [3:23]
25. Night Jitters [3:44]
26. Death Stalk at Dawn [3:34]
27. Holy Target [1:55]
28. Bathhouse Bullets [3:42]
29. Fire and Blood [3:32]
30. Second Victim [2:18]
31. Butler vs. McCabe [2:36]
32. Last Steps [2:55]
33. Cast List [1:11]

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