Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Robert Altman, Brian McKay
Producer: David Foster, Mitchell Brower
Based on: McCabe by Edmund Naughton
Cinematography: Vilmos Zsigmond
Editor: Louis Lombardo
Stars: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane
Release Date: June 24, 1971 (United States)
Runtime: 120 minutes
Genre: Drama, Western
- Warren Beatty – John McCabe
- Julie Christie – Constance Miller
- René Auberjonois – Sheehan
- Michael Murphy – Eugene Sears
- Antony Holland – Ernest Hollander
- Bert Remsen – Bart Coyle
- Shelley Duvall – Ida Coyle
- Keith Carradine – Cowboy
- Hugh Millais – Butler
- Jace Van Der Veen – Breed
- Manfred Schulz – Kid
- Corey Fischer – Rev. Elliot
- William Devane – Clement Samuels, Esq
- John Schuck – Smalley
- 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
- Edwin Collier – Gilchrist
- Robert Fortier – Town Drunk
- Wayne Grace – Bartender
- Rodney Gage – Sumner Washington
- Lili Francks – Mrs. Washington
- Wes Taylor – Shorty Dunn
Sometime during the beginning of the 20th century, the charismatic gambler John McCabe (Warren Beatty) arrives in a small mining town of Presbyterian Church. He decides to establish a saloon and a makeshift brothel in the town. He hires three prostitutes for only $200 from a brothel-keeper in the neighboring town of Bearpaw.
Constance Miller (Julie Christie) shows up offering to run the brothel for him more profitably. The business succeeds and they later open a higher class bathhouse for hygiene.
Their success draws the attention of two agents from a nearby mining company, Eugene Sears (Michael Murphy) and Ernest Hollander (Anthony Holland). They are eager to buy out McCabe’s business as well as a nearby zinc mine.
Being a gambler, McCabe rejects their initial $5,500 offer and he holds out for a higher price. Miller warns him of the repercussions that would ensue for refusing their offer. However, he ignores her advice. Eventually, the agents are tired of his big-headedness are they adopt a violent approach. They send three bounty hunters Butler (Hugh Millais), Breed (Jace Van Der Veen), and kid (Manfred Schulz) to kill McCabe.
McCabe is clearly afraid of the newly arrived assassins and he even tries to pacify them. Butler (Hugh Millais), the head assassin, confronts him and he later proclaims that McCabe has never killed anyone before.
McCabe later tries to settle on a price with the two agents but unfortunately, they were already out of town. He even seeks legal advice from lawyer Clement Samuels (William Devane) but he can’s assure him of immunity against the company’s monopoly. He has to face the assassins head on.
McCabe prepares for the upcoming war with sufficient arms. During one chilly morning, McCabe is hiding in the Presbyterian Church only for the armed pastor to evict him. A broken lantern later sparks a fire, moments after Butler mistakenly shoots the pastor. The area residents come to put out the fire.
McCabe’s efforts of retaliation prove a success and he even kills two of the assassins. Unfortunately, he is also wounded in the process. He later feigns death after a brief gunfire with Butler. The latter falls into the trap and he is shot dead with a Derringer when he attempts to confirm it was actually McCabe. The film ends with McCabe dying alone in the snow while Miller drowns her sorrow in an opium den.
Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller is simply the best of the four anti-western masterpieces he has produced. Film producer David Forster based the film on a 1968 story by Edmund Naughton. The plot is very interesting and easy to flow with. A silent but strong man only requires a bold and strong woman to turn his business idea into a success.
John McCabe plays an adventurous gambling man visiting the growing town of Presbyterian Church. He ventures into a business world but it takes the effort of a lady for it to yield success. He is a cowardly in nature and he only fights when he thinks fighting is the only option.
Mrs. Miller hits the scenes in a steam carriage and one can barely think of her as a prudent manager. She is bold enough to even promise success before she gets the deal. She even warns McCabe of the consequences of not agreeing with the agents.
Butler plays the lead assassin. He is responsible for McCabe’s demise at last. The rest of the cast was exceptional.
Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was also on par with the production team. The backdrop included grocery stores, saloons and brothels, rainy weather, Presbyterian Church and a period western timber town.
The filming at the end was atypical of the western genre. Gunfire occurs in a snowy morning while the unaware residents are busy extinguishing fire in the Chapel.
Other than the music in the Presbyterian Church, the film is dominated by Leonard Cohen’s songs. Actually, the songs have been used to illustrate the mood in the different scenes. Were it not for the songs, the mournful link ups that unify the film would be missing. The themes of injustices and civilization are evident. The rich company agents are a true reflection of the greedy rich men of the era.
Apart from the shootouts and the burning of the Chapel, I did not notice any other disturbing scenes in the film. The film received an unimaginable reception and accolades follow the incredible casting and production.
I have found myself watching the movie again on several occasions. For anyone yearning for a classic western drama with a little bit noir, McCabe and Mrs. Miller was made for you. A rating of 7.7 out of 10 is my take for such a masterpiece.