Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on June 7, 2010 at 11:29 PM


Robert Altman


IDEA:   A self-aggrandizing gambler and a prostitute start a brothel business in an old mining town, before outside forces threaten to overtake them.

BLURB:   The parched panoramas and immortal haze that cover the dreary town of Presbyterian Church creates a mood quite unlike any other. Cold, wet, and unbelievably gloomy, it appears in faded washes like a tea-stained photograph from long ago, its edges torn and its center falling away into the inscrutable fog of the past. Within the antiquated picture are characters so human and so very problematic, people fated for the dooms they must be afforded in a time and place that accepts no prosperity without an unavoidable and dangerous cost. The vision of the West here is not sunny and heroic, but mournful, lugubrious, and without concession, a sad music box that plays its stolid tune until it can play no more, until the delusions of its contents are fully made clear and the last hush of the wintry day can go out, ever so quietly, into the lonely abyss.

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Reply David
10:41 PM on March 28, 2011 
Don't forget the romance between the Beatty and Christie characters. It reveals the hopes and the vulnerabilities of people who strive to escape their gloomy existence without realizing (or, so we think) that they are actually teetering on the edge of the abyss.
Reply Jonathan Leithold-Patt
11:23 PM on March 28, 2011 
Indeed. The film works so well ultimately because we care so much about both of them, and the final shot of Christie dazedly staring into the opium pipe - while McCabe's fate has been sealed elsewhere - is when we realize there's no going back.
Reply David
1:03 AM on November 5, 2011 
And don't forget Leonard Cohen's suitably mournful soundtrack. "The Stranger" complements Beatty's fateful arrival in Presbyterian Church, and "Traveling Lady" presents Christie as a temporary respite from the gloom, and a glimmer of hope for Beatty's unattainable dreams.