By 1970, the Western was nearly a dead genre in Hollywood’s eyes. While Clint Eastwood and John Wayne had all but finished their last Westerns and the revisionist, stylized violence of Sergio Leone and Sam Pechinpah’s Westerns had run their course, the innovative Robert Altman surprised many by making his own western. Altman directed McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a moody Western gem about the unique partnership between a gambler and a prostitute, two of the West’s best examples of free enterprising entrepreneurs.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller is set in the gloomy, cold environment of the Pacific Northwest in the early days of the 20th Century. John McCabe (Warren Beatty), a businessman of dubious background, comes to the isolated town called Presbyterian Church and quickly sets up a saloon for gambling and a small hotel for prostitution. Months later, a couple of prostitutes and a mail order bride arrive with an experienced cockneyed Madame Mrs. Constance Miller (Julie Christie). Miller is an assertive woman with many ideas for shaping up McCabe’s prostitution business and doubling his profits, with clean sheets, ladies with good hygiene and fancier rooms.
Where many would expect a romance to be pursued, Altman develops the business partnership with an eventual conflict with a mining company that tries to forcefully buy out McCabe’s businesses, with only moments of outward affection between his leads. Ever the visual artist, Altman focuses on the environment and the atmospheric mood, nicely accented by Vilmos Zsigmond’s rich cinematography and the melancholy folk songs of Leonard Cohen. Altman captures a realistic mood with natural overlapping dialogue and paints the Western in a uniquely different tradition.

About The Author

Syd Slobodnik

Syd Slobodnik has been writing for Illini Media publications since 1975: for The Daily Illini from 1975 to 1978 and from 1984 to 1988, and for buzz since 2003. Syd teaches numerous film courses at the University of Illinois in the English Department. He also cohosts a monthly television program which reviews old films that remind you of recent films you may have seen, called "If You Liked, You'll Love" on the Parkland Channel.

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