McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Genres - Drama, Western  |   Sub-Genres - Revisionist Western  |   Release Date - Jun 24, 1971 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 121 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Deconstructing the Western, Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) defied conventional myth-making with an oblique narrative steeped in Vietnam-era mistrust of American institutions. Shooting on location in Canada on a haphazard set built as filming progressed, Altman upended Western clich├ęs of heroic Progress in an environment that was authentically rough, even as it evoked the muddy mires of Vietnam. Warren Beatty's McCabe was more buffoonish dreamer than powerful gunfighter, while Julie Christie's business-minded hooker Mrs. Miller had a heart of opium; Altman's widescreen zoom shots and soundtrack of overlapping voices and haunting Leonard Cohen songs downplayed McCabe's presence amid peripheral action and characters. The incursion of corporate interests on McCabe's success seems almost incidental, but the sudden eruption of pointless violence and a lawyer's hypocrisy about freedom and sacrifice reveal McCabe's doom. With cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond's grainy, desaturated colors lending the interiors an orange-brown glow that contrasted with the hazy green-gray exteriors, Altman eschewed heroic frontier vistas in favor of a murky, hallucinatory beauty, particularly in McCabe's snowbound, eerily quiet final shoot-out. Confounding viewers with its layered soundtrack and tonal shifts, McCabe & Mrs. Miller failed to catch on; it has since come to be seen as one of the period's best revisionist Westerns and one of the most poetic and elegiac genre revisions of the 1970s.