McCABE & MRS. MILLER
Review by Gordon Justesen
Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, William Devane, Shelly Duvall, Keith
Carradine, Michael Murphy
Director: Robert Altman
Audio: PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: October 11, 2016
ďAll youíve cost me so far is money and pain...pain, pain, pain.Ē
Having made the most unconventional war movie with M*A*S*H in 1970, director Robert Altman would certainly go on to make by far the most unconventional western at the time with McCabe & Mrs. Miller the following year. To this day, it remains such a distinctive film in the genre, even though Altman himself declared it an ďanti-westernĒ. To put it in perspective, it would make a fitting double bill with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.
Set in the early 1900s in a mining community known as Presbyterian Church, the film centers on a gambler and gunslinger named John McCabe (Warren Beatty). He has arrived in town with his sights set on a business opportunity. He intends on setting up with the absolute best brothel the town has ever seen.
He is able to get his new business venture up and running in no time. However, it isnít until the arrival of working girl Constance Miller (Julie Christie), that business starts to boom. She has connections to the best talent in the brothel business, and once sheís promised a cut of the profits by McCabe, she ensures that it will turn into the finest establishment of its kind...which it does.
Matters become complicated, though, when executives from a mining company show up with the intention of buying McCabe out. He refuses their offer and makes the unfortunate decision of making an even bigger offer. Eventually, McCabe realizes he will have to go to dangerous means if he wants to keep his business running for good.
While the story is intriguing itself, with Beatty and Christie turning in extremely memorable turns in the title roles, the strength of McCabe & Mrs. Miller comes from two areas; the first being the breathtaking look of the film provided by cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond. Altmanís envisioning of a different kind of west along with Zsigmondís sumptuous capturing of the setting result in one of the most beautiful looking films the genre has ever produced.
The second strength is that of the awesomely captivating music provided by Leonard Cohen. I was very familiar with Cohen as a musician, but never knew he had provided songs for a film before (outside of Natural Born Killers). But the songs he provides here add a distinctive touch to an already distinctive film. It was a stroke of genius on the part of Altman to have Cohen provide such majestic and haunting melodies.
As you can probably gather, this is not a film for the traditional western lover. Thereís only about two or three gun shots in the entire film, which is most deliberately paced. Robert Altman, as he did with the war movie genre, was surely intending to flip with western on its ear with McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which is indeed one of the filmmakerís finest works to date
Criterion has crafted a tremendously glorious presentation of a most unique looking film. This new 4k digital restoration looks nothing short of astounding. The visual look does intentionally give off a look of soft focus at times, as was intended, and the new transfer does that complete justice. The detail is particularly strong in capturing the mining town setting. Altmanís vision of the west comes to absolute vivid life in this outstanding HD handling.
The PCM mono mix is incredibly well rendered for this Blu-ray. The biggest highlight, as in the movie itself, is the music of Leonard Cohen, whose songs play through in absolute beautiful form. And the dialogue is delivered really good as well, even in spite of Altmanís overlapping technique. All in all, a top notch delivery of a 70s piece from Criterion.
Criterion ushers in yet another canít beat lineup of supplements for this Blu-ray release. To start with, thereís a terrific commentary with Robert Altman and producer David Foster. In addition, thereís a new making-of documentary with cast and crew members, as well as a new conversation about the film and Altmanís career between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell. Thereís a featurette from the filmís 1970 production, an
Art Directors Guild Film Society Q&A from 1999 with production designer Leon Ericksen, excerpts from archival interviews with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, a gallery of stills from the set by photographer Steve Schapiro,excerpts from two 1971 episodes of The Dick Cavett Show with Altman and film critic Pauline Kael and a Trailer.
And, as always with Criterion, thereís a wonderful insert booklet, with this one featuring an essay by novelist and critic Nathaniel Rich.
Itís great to see Criterion preserve many of Robert Altmanís cherished works, which McCabe & Mrs. Miller certainly is. Thereís rarely been a western like it, and yet because of its distinctive qualities it is remembered as a classic within the genre. The Blu-ray from Criterion is definitely worth checking out.