McCabe & Mrs. Miller
||This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (July 2012)|
|McCabe & Mrs. Miller|
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Mitchell Brower
|Written by||Edmund Naughton (novel)
|Editing by||Lou Lombardo|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||June 24, 1971|
|Running time||121 minutes|
McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a 1971 American Western film starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, and directed by Robert Altman. The screenplay is based on Edmund Naughton's novel McCabe. The director called it an "anti-western film" because the film ignores or subverts a number of Western conventions. The film has been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the United States.
Around the beginning of the twentieth century, a gambler named John McCabe arrives mumbling to himself in the town of Presbyterian Church (named after its only substantial building, a largely unfrequented chapel), in the northwest United States. He quickly takes a dominant position over the town's simple-minded and lethargic miners, thanks to his aggressive personality and rumors that he is a gunfighter.
McCabe establishes a makeshift brothel, consisting of three prostitutes purchased from a pimp in the nearby town of Bearpaw for $200, and has some success. Englishwoman Constance Miller, an opium-addicted professional "madam," arrives in town and convinces McCabe that she can do a better job of managing the brothel than he can. The two become successful business partners, and open a higher class establishment which is more successful. A love interest develops between the two after McCabe avails himself of the madam's services.
As the town becomes richer and more successful, a pair of agents from the Harrison Shaughnessy mining company in Bearpaw arrive to buy out McCabe's business as well as the surrounding zinc mines. Shaughnessy is notorious for having people killed when they refuse to sell. McCabe doesn't want to sell at their initial price, but he overplays his hand in the negotiations in spite of Mrs. Miller's warnings that he is underestimating the violence that will ensue if they don't take the money.
Three bounty killers are dispatched by the mining company to make an example of McCabe but he refuses to abandon the town. The climactic showdown is unconventional for a Western. McCabe is clearly afraid of the gunmen when they arrive in town, and initially tries to appease them. Reflecting back to very early in the film when he's reputed to be a gun fighter (aka Pudgy McCabe) who shot someone in a card game, one of the hired killers (the third gunman) after hearing the story, with the addition that the gun was a derringer, proclaims that McCabe has never killed anyone in his life. Finally, when a lethal confrontation becomes inevitable, McCabe kills two of the gunmen by shooting them from hidden positions, leaving only the third to be dealt with. In a final twist, McCabe is mortally wounded, but also kills the third gunman with a derringer. While the townspeople fight a fire in the chapel, McCabe dies in the snow and Mrs. Miller visits a Chinese opium den.
- Warren Beatty - John McCabe
- Julie Christie - Constance Miller
- Rene Auberjonois - Sheehan
- William Devane - the Lawyer
- John Schuck - Smalley
- Corey Fischer - Mr. Elliot
- Bert Remsen- Bart Coyle
- Shelley Duvall - Ida Coyle
- Keith Carradine - Cowboy
- Michael Murphy - Sears
- Hugh Millais - Butler
- Jace Van Der Veen - Breed
- Jackie Crossland - Lily
- Elizabeth Murphy - Kate
- Carey Lee McKenzie - Alma
- Thomas Hill - Archer
- Linda Sorenson - Blanche
- Elisabeth Knight - Birdie
- Janet Wright - Eunice
- Maysie Hoy - Maisie
- Linda Kupecek - Ruth
- Jeremy Newson - Jeremy Berg
- Wayne Robson - Bartender
- Jack Riley - Riley Quinn
- Robert Fortier - Town Drunk
- Wayne Grace - Bartender
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2010)|
Altman was introduced to the story by David Foster, one of the film's producers. Foster had been introduced to the story by the widow of novelist Richard Wright, an agent for Edmund Naughton, who was then living in Paris and working for the International Herald Tribune.
Altman was in post-production on M.A.S.H. and sneaked Foster into the screening; Foster liked the film and agreed to have Altman direct McCabe; the two of them agreed to wait until M.A.S.H. became popular to take the pitch for McCabe to a studio for funding. Meanwhile, Foster called Warren Beatty, then in England, about the film; Beatty flew to New York to see M.A.S.H. and then flew to Los Angeles, California to sign for McCabe.
The film was originally called The Presbyterian Church Wager, after a bet placed among the church's few attendees about whether McCabe would survive his refusal of the offer to buy his property. Altman reported that an official in the Presbyterian Church called Warner Brothers to complain about having its church mentioned in the context of a film about brothels and gambling. The complaint prompted a name change to John Mac Cabe, but it was further changed and released as McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
The film was shot in West Vancouver and in Squamish, almost entirely in sequential order — a rarity for films. The crew found a suitable location for the filming and, as filming progressed, built up the "set" as McCabe built up the town in the film. In the film, Mrs. Miller is brought into town on a J. I. Case 80 HP steam engine from 1912; the steam engine is genuine and functioning and the crew used it to power the lumbermill after its arrival. Carpenters for the film were locals and young men from the United States, fleeing conscription into the Vietnam War; they were dressed in period costume and used tools of the period so that they could go about their business in the background while the plot advanced in the foreground.
The crew ran buried hoses throughout the town, placed so they could create the appearance of rain if necessary. Since the city of Vancouver generally receives a great deal of rain, it was usually only necessary to turn on the hoses to make scenes shot on days when it didn't rain match those shot on days when it did.
It began snowing near the end of the film's shooting, when the church fire and the standoff were the only scenes left to shoot. Beatty did not want to start shooting in the snow, as it was in a sense dangerous (expensive) to do so: to preserve continuity, the entire rest of the film would have to be shot in snow. Altman countered that since those were the only scenes left to film, it was best to start since there was nothing else to do. The "standoff" scene — which is in fact more a "cat and mouse" scene involving shooting one's enemy in the back — and its concurrent church fire scene were shot over a period of nine days. The heavy snow, with the exception of a few "fill-in" patches on the ground, was all genuine; the crew members built snowmen and had snowball fights between takes.
For the distinctive cinematography, Altman and Zsigmond chose to "flash" (pre-fog) the actual film negative, as well as use a number of filters on the cameras, rather than manipulate the film in post-production; in this way the studio could not force him to change the film's look to something less distinctive.
The music for the film was mainly by Leonard Cohen. Altman had liked Cohen's debut album, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967), immensely, buying additional copies of it after wearing each one out. He had then forgotten about the LP. A few years later, Altman visited Paris, just after finishing shooting McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and rediscovered Cohen's album; he had it transferred and used the music to maintain a rhythm for the film (in effect using it as a "temp" track). Altman didn't expect to be able to procure rights for Cohen's music since McCabe was a Warner Brothers film and Cohen's album was released through Columbia Records. He called Cohen, expecting to trade off his recent success with M*A*S*H, but found that Cohen had no knowledge of it. Instead, Cohen had loved Altman's less popular follow-up film Brewster McCloud. Cohen arranged for his record company to license the music cheaply, even writing into the contract that sales of that album after the release of McCabe would turn some of the royalties to Altman (an arrangement which at the time was quite unusual). Later, on watching McCabe to come up with a guitar riff for one scene, Cohen decided he didn't like the film. Nonetheless, he honored his contract and recorded the music for it. A year later he called Altman to apologize, saying he had seen the film again and loved it.
The film earned an estimated $4 million in rentals in North America.
Julie Christie's performance was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography received a nomination by the British Academy Film Awards, and the film's screenplay garnered a Writers Guild of America nomination.
Greeted with muted praise upon release, the film's reputation has grown in stature in the intervening years. Roger Ebert, a leading critic, wrote an appreciation in 1999, "Robert Altman has made a dozen films that can be called great in one way or another, but one of them is perfect, and that one is McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)." In June 2008, the American Film Institute revealed its AFI's 10 Top 10—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. McCabe & Mrs. Miller was acknowledged as the eighth best film in the Western genre.
- Box Office Information for McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The Numbers. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
- More than 15 editions of the novel in several languages were published subsequent to the release of the film. See Naughton, Edmund (1959). McCabe. MacMillan. OCLC 1856056.
- As cited in Shapiro, Michael J. (2008). "Robert Altman: The West as Countermemory". In Phillips, James. Cinematic Thinking: Philosophical Approaches to the New Cinema. Stanford University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780804758000. "He called his film an "'anti-Western' because the film turns a number of Western conventions on their sides""
- "Hollywood Blockbusters, Independent Films and Shorts Selected for 2010 National Film Registry". US Library of Congress. January 4, 2011. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- Monthly Film Bulletin; 1972; pp. 53-54
- "Updated All-time Film Champs", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 60
- Ebert, Roger (November 14, 1999). "McCabe & Mrs. Miller". Chicago Sun Times.
- "Top 10 Western". American Film Institute. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
- Barnes, Mike (December 28, 2010). "'Empire Strikes Back', 'Airplane!' Among 25 Movies Named to National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-11-26.
Further reading 
- Danks, Adrian (2000). "Just Some Jesus Looking for a Manger: McCabe & Mrs. Miller". Senses of Cinema. An extended appreciation of the film in the broader context of film in the late 20th century.
- Self, Robert T. (2007). Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller: Reframing the American West. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1551-3. A 216 page book on the film by an English professor at Northern Illinois University.
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller at the Internet Movie Database
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller at AllRovi
- McCabe & Mrs. Miller at Rotten Tomatoes