I will keep this short since so much has already been said, but I was recently making my own lists and realized that this film is in my all time top 5. This is the film where style MEETS substance, or perhaps where style DETERMINES substance.
Altman is arguably the most important American director after Welles. His use of panorama and flow---every tv show today uses Altman's flow through technique---make you want to watch this film over and over. Once for the story, once just to appreciate his fluid camera motion, once to appreciate how he maintains large groups and then focuses on one person in the group, and once again to watch how it all works.
Even Altman's failures, and he had his share of those, are still interesting to watch. I would rather watch a bad Altman film than films by most other directors, and that especially means directors like Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, who i think are highly over rated.
But this is one of Altman's best.
A beautiful tone poem of a film. The story is a bit thin, but the cinematography, the Leonard Cohen songs, the style of the acting creates a western unlike any other, at once surreal and dreamlike, and yet somehow also hyper-real, as though we were eavesdropping through history. The first half has an intentionally meandering feel, that tightens ever more to a terrifically tense climax. This is a film much more about tone, mood, and feeling than story or even character. Sadly the DVD transfer of this amazing looking film is mediocre at best. If ever a film begged for the Criterion treatment or Blu-ray, or both, this is it.
What's even worse is that the DVD isn't even available at Amazon.ca! However it is on the US Amazon. As much as it's an imperfect transfer, that's still wildly preferable to an aging VHS tape!
on August 4, 2008
I saw this movie in the theatre many years ago, my first exposure to Robert Altman's fluid style. The movie is a portrait - the cinematography is beautiful, it left me with the same feelings I get while looking at great photographs. I was stunned by the dark mood the movie creates and by some of my feelings, especially my shock at the central murder scene on the bridge.
I thought Keith Carradine's role as the cowboy is the best acting in this film, and if you watch him play Bill Hickok in Deadwood, you'll hardly believe you're seeing the same actor, so great are his talents.
This movie has remained on my all-time favourites list since 1971. But you will not find "excitement" or "action" here. It's simply an exceptional portrait of a special time and place.
on July 29, 2002
Put together Robert Altman, Warren Beatty, and Julie Christie 30 years ago and you have an excellent piece of work. This is a classic tragedy, and colors, lighting, scenery, behavior of chatacters, all mingle to act out a story whose end is predicted in the opening scenes by the singer in the background. The conclusion comes inexorably, always foreshadowed by the ballad in the background. In between we have vices, beauty, nearly everything from the human condition. Don't miss this beautiful, tragic story of greed, love, and hopelessness.
on June 24, 2015
This is definitely not one of the 'spaghetti western', John Wayne, Magnificent Seven types of westerns. But is a fairly accurate cut of a authentic frontier mining town (Which Altman and crew built entirely from scratch to historical specs!) Beatty is good as the enterprising John McCabe, and Christie is a hoot as the 'madame' Mrs. Miller. Some funny moments, but by and large a truthful and adult look at frontier living, and 'the business of sin' in order to make a town flourish. And when that business of sin does start to flourish, 'hostile takeovers' are inevitable. But all in all, I found this movie a little slow and convoluted in trying to follow. Part of the intrigue I suppose, but weakened it somewhat for me as well. And definitely don't expect the Lone Ranger or The Cisco Kid to save the day and ride off into the sunset with his belle at the end of this film either. To sum it up in a word = 'pitiful'. But it's a pity that will sure stick with the viewer in a good and lasting way. And too, I like Altman's 'Quintet' for some strange reason. There's something about how Altman get's actors to realize the games they're playing in his movies, and the subtle realization what the stakes really are. As detailed and slow and mysterious as Altman movies can be, I think it's the fact that many can relate to the characters in them. How a hustler can fall for a 'madame' that's clearly 10 times better at the business game than he, though my fail by her own vices as much as he in the end for McCabe And Mrs. Miller. To 'sleeping with the enemy' and the sudden and quick satisfaction of killing them and being lucky to survive for the next natural challenges and human foes that awaits Redstone in Quintet. Altman is unorthodox, un-revealing, and unapologetic with his movies. But it's all there in them - I think. Truly lasting, that's for sure.
on July 3, 2002
"Red River" and "Unforgiven" top my list of the greatest Westerns ever made. Right behind those classics is this film. Director Robert Altman gives us the West as it probably really was if you can peel back the stuff of myth and legend. Warren Beatty and Julie Christie play the hardly heroic leads who are trying to reinvent themselves in the West out of lack of other choices. Beatty is a very flawed, somewhat cowardly entrepreneur while Christie is a madam for the local prostitutes, potentially a much better entrepreneur, albeit a bit of a hop head. They have an affair of sorts that is about the best this twosome can ever hope to have and that's not saying much. After you experience living in this hard scrabble, barely standing town, you will be so glad you were not a hearty pioneer! I know I am. There is nothing glamorous or romantic about this existence in the least and Altman does not flinch from the task of laying before us the unvarnished West. Beatty and Christie also do not flinch from playing these disreputable founders of the Old West.
on April 13, 2001
This is first class film-making all the way.
The West of Robert Altman (Pacific Northwest more precisely) is not the the usual West of Hollywood. Peopled by poor working stiffs & idiots at the mercy of hustlers, gamblers, killers and whores, and inevitably, by politicians & big business in the form of the quietly rapacious Railroad, it is wet, nasty, dirty, and harsh.
A small-time gambler McCabe (Beatty) becomes an entrepenuer (saloon & brothel) in the soggy and filthy mining town of Presbyterian with the aid of a sharp and clever English madam (Christie) only to have his newfound prosperity & "status" threatened by a ruthless larger enterprise. This is a true American story. Not the only American story, but just as valid as any others.
Filmed in real rain and real snow on location, this film just has lots and lots of good stuff. The plight of the cowboy on the bridge (Keith Carradine) facing a psychotic baby-faced gunslinger, McCabe's desperate battle in the snow, the overlapping dialogue with very funny throw-away lines, the appropriate use of Leonard Cohen's songs, and the beautiful cinematography. It is a rich film that only improves on multiple viewings.
This movie says more about the underlying dark side of the conquest of the American West than Cimino's Heaven's Gate did in half the time and probably 1/10th of the budget. Of course, that is the difference between a would-be "artiste" and a guy who makes movies that turn out to be art.
The quality of the VHS is only fair. This film cries out for DVD. But, if this is the only way to see it....see it.
on July 10, 2000
The deglamorization of the western has never been made so beautifully. One of the sadest films ever made. Altman has basically no compassion for his characters, that is the reason we care so much about them. Warren Beatty gives probably his best performance as the gambler McCabe who transforms a small mining town into a busy boomtown. Julie Christie is also excellent as the business wise hooker that brings 'high class girls' to the town. What make this one unique are the beautiful landscapes that are expertly captured by the masterful cinematography, the haunting and unforgettable Leonard Cohen songs, and powerhouse direction by Altman who brings us richly textured characters that provide a breathtaking and unforgettable cinematic experience. The film also features one of the saddest deaths in Western history, young cocky Keith Carradine is tricked by a ruthless gunslinger and meats his death on that fatal bridge. The last scenes in the snow storm where the antihero McCabe is put into a heroic position is unbearably poignant and unbelievably beautiful. A fascinating film that has a lot to offer. From a scale of 1-10 I give this film a 9!
on June 9, 2000
Masterful character study manages a rare feat: demystifying the West without resorting to heavy-handedness and obvious targets. While the overall soundness of expansion is questioned, Altman is far more interested in the dynamics of community and how individualism is often sacrificed in the name of "progress." McCabe, played by Warren Beatty in what might be his best performance, is a vintage anti-hero; self-absorbed, bumbling, deluded, and concerned only with his own interests. Mrs. Miller, played wonderfully by Julie Christie, manages to evade cliché at every turn, never resorting to a "heart-of-gold" status and always keeping her eye on the bottom line. Their relationship, central to Altman's vision, gives us a dirty, unglamorous frontier, full of mindless violence, decay, and prostitution; again not the Hollywood version, but rather as it most likely was (and is). McCabe & Mrs. Miller co-exist not as friends or lovers, but rather as a business alliance, reinforcing Altman's belief that communities come together not out of a sense of sentiment or loving connection, but rather to build industry and frankly, make money. Once again, Altman uses overlapping dialogue, muffled conversations, and music (the soundtrack consists solely of sad Leonard Cohen songs) to convey character and the inability of people to engage in meaningful interactions. As McCabe wanders in a blizzard near the end of the film attempting to evade death at the hands of hired guns, members of the community he helped build remain oblivious to his plight as they instead focus on a burning church. Hopeless, alone, and facing a meaningless death, we are again put face to face with the stark truth provided by Altman. In the Old West, like any other historical era or region, there are no last-minute heroics or gentlemen atop white horses, only the sounds of the pipe dreamers and individuals gasping their last breaths as the wheels of capital grind on.
on June 3, 2000
McCabe and Mrs. Miller is yet another brillant work from Robert Altman who along with Scorsese ranks as the two greatest filmmakers America has produced. Next to "Nashville", this is Altman's best film. One of Altman's devices is to take an established genre of filmmaking and turn it completely inside out and reexamine it. Here, Altman has made a Western (or is is an Anti-Western)like no other. This neither looks nor feels like any other film I've seen. Warren Beatty gives the performance of his career here(you would'nt know he and Altman were at odds the entire shoot) and I will forever remember the lovely Julie Christie as Mrs. Miller, the tough talking shrewd and business smart prostitute. Altman's sensational style of filmmaking perfectly suits the material, his remarkable use of overlapping dialogue demands multiple viewings, and Vilmos Zsigmond's incredible, ususual cinematography is endlessly fascinating to look at. And ,as with most of Altman's work, one can interpet the film a number of ways. Is it a tough look at achieving the American Dream, or is it a study of American frontierism/individualism vs. community/democracy? Is it (as one previous reviewer commented)an indictment of Capitalism and a look at the way Big Business encroached on the frontier and a simple way of life. Is it a study of loneliness and heroism? The answer is yes to all of these. To top it off, Altman's use of Leonard Cohen's songs to accompany the film adds to the overall sense of melancholy, it fits it beautifully. If I sound like I'm gushing, I am, great films have that effect. See this now!