Monday, January 28, 2008

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

McCabe & Mrs. Miller; western drama, USA, 1971; D: Robert Altman, S: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane, John Schuck, Corey Fischer, Bert Remsen, Shelley Duvall, Keith Carradine
Northern US, early 20th Century. The mysterious John McCabe arrives in a small town and wins some money in a poker game in a nearby saloon. With it, he buys three ugly prostitutes and hires workers to build him a brothel. Since the business needs some improvement, John summons the experienced prostitute Constance Miller who helps him out and becomes his business partner. But one day two capitalists offer John over 6.000 $ for his land property, but since he refuses they hire three assassins. In self-defence, John kills them, but eventually dies himself from the wounds they gave to him and fall in the snow.

Unusual cult western grotesque "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" has a whole bunch of irregularity - the first half of the story is composed completely arbitrarily, the characters are too enigmatic and vague, many episodic events fall into the category of larpurlartism - but saying it isn't excellent would be a complete lie. Is it better and more coherent than Altman's other films like "Short Cuts" and "Nashville"? Indeed, it is, mostly due to surprising, though "invisible" emotions and brave realism that puts the old western cliches upside down - even Ford's "The Searchers" had bitter moments, but none ever similar to "McCabe" where the heroine, Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie, nominated for an Oscar) asks McCabe if he ever thought how he is going to protect his prostitutes from venereal disease or some dark scenes like the one where some prostitute wounds a man in a tent with a knife. The final, 20-minute long duel between McCabe and three assassins in a landscape cowered entirely with snow, shot almost entirely in complete silence, is probably the best thing Altman ever did: a special poetry was achieved through the exchange of the scenes between the wounded McCabe and Mrs. Miller who waits for him in her warm bed. Rarely was even Altman that unpretentiously, artistically aligned.


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