Review: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)


The Old West has never been bleaker!

Screenplay By: Robert Altman & Brian McKay
Directed By: Robert Altman

The first thing one notices about McCabe & Mrs. Miller is how ugly of a picture it is. I’m not referring to its technical look, but it’s realized picture and its story. The Old West of McCabe & Mrs. Miller isn’t vast and expansive, nor is it clean and tidy. Mud is everywhere, the women are ugly, the men are disgusting and the vibe in the air is always oppressive. I was constantly aware of the feeling of claustrophobia while watching McCabe & Mrs. Miller and it was a feeling that never went away. The feeling of being in a dirty and grimy place also permeated the entirety of McCabe & Mrs. Miller and it was another feeling that never went away.

While I am a Leonard Cohen fan, I don’t think I’m being biased at all in praising the use of his music. McCabe & Mrs. Miller had a conversational tone to it and Cohen’s music has a very laid back and conversational vibe to it. The two mixed together and worked well off of each other, because in a lot of ways McCabe & Mrs. Miller was just like Cohen’s body of work, all about the banal.

I was able to appreciate what Robert Altman was trying to say and accomplish. I did get the sense that this was a deconstruction of the Western people had become accustomed to. It was also very clearly directed towards the constant American drive towards capitalism above all else and how as we improve technologically we don’t exactly improve as a people. But, I felt Altman was a bit obvious in delivering that message. In most places it was too on the nose and in no other place but message delivery did McCabe & Mrs. Miller come across like a movie that wanted to hit you on the nose.

I already praised the dirty and gritty look of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, but in the final snowfall scenes I can’t praise the film. Whether it was the film stock used or the way the snow was manufactured I don’t know. But, what I do know is that the snowfall throughout the entire end sequence looked incredibly fake and was highly distracting. I also felt that near the end of the movie Altman had trouble spatially with his characters, or at the very least with relating where they were on screen to the audience.

In the end McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a good picture, but it left me decidedly cold. When it was over I wasn’t left thinking I had just watched cinema greatness, but a good picture that veered too off track in parts. Is McCabe & Mrs. Miller worth a look, surely it is. But, it’s not a film you need to go out of your way to see, this is one time when taking a stand for freedom isn’t necessary, or some such witty saying.





3 responses to “Review: McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

  1. Looked like real snow to me…and I live near the set!

  2. The snow for the most part was real and snow feeling was realistic. The superimposed snow was unfortunately artifical looking whenever the camera panned.

  3. I don’t know man, I always felt the snow looked very off.

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