McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

A gambler (Warren Beatty) and a professional madam (Julie Christie) join forces to run a local brothel, in Robert Altman’s dreamy frontier story.

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Film details

Alternative titles

  • The Presbyterian Church Wager Working
  • McCabe Alternative
  • McCabe and Mistress Miller Alternative

Cast & Credits

Introduction

“McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a beautiful pipe dream of a movie – a fleeting, almost diaphanous vision of what frontier life might have been.”
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, 1971

Robert Altman made a run of films in the early seventies that reacted against the staid conventions of Hollywood genres. McCabe & Mrs. Miller is his anti-western, a film that questions the heroic pioneering myths perpetuated in classic cowboy movies.

Set in a snow-covered Pacific Northwest rather than the dusty plains of genre tradition, it casts Beatty as the vainglorious cardsharp McCabe, an anti-heroic knave who goes into business with (and falls for) opium-addicted prostitute Constance Miller (Christie).

Typically for Altman, the dialogue is often overlapping or indistinct, creating a naturalistic impression of conversations overheard. With songs by Leonard Cohen and hazy, sepia-like widescreen photography by Hungarian Vilmos Zsigmond, the result is a beguilingly dreamlike vision of times past, texturally unique in the history of the western.

Altman returned for another revisionist debunking of Wild West mythology with Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976).

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