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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • French: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer - Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio commentary - By Director Robert Altman and Producer David Forster
  • Featurette - General discussion on the making of the film
  • Filmographies - Filmographies of the two main stars

McCabe & Mrs Miller

Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 121 mins . M15+ . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is to Westerns as cola is to lemonade: they are both related deep down, but they taste distinctly different. What Iím getting at is that whilst this film slots into the genre of the Western, it is definitely different in story and design than most others. The story is based on the novel by Edmund Naughton, and director Robert Altman changed quite a few things when converting the book to film. Robert Altman is of course best known for Nashville and M*A*S*H, and more recently Gosford Park. He has a huge fan following, but I must admit I donít enjoy many of his films. This however is definitely one of his best pieces of work.

The setting is a cold frontier mining settlement called Presbyterian Church at the turn of the 19th century. The sky is always dark and grey, the ground always muddy or icy. The depressing theme runs through the whole film, this is one movie that wonít make you feel like dancing to a tune at its conclusion. We are introduced to a rugged gambler by the name of James McCabe (Warren Beatty) as he rides into town one evening. He is trying to live the ďGreat American DreamĒ, to settle down and live a peaceful life with a nice business. After a short time he decides to set up a saloon and brothel for the local miners.

"If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bounce his ass so much."

It is soon apparent however that he has very little business sense, and he fails to see the potential of his establishment. This is where we meet a shrewd and no-nonsense madam named Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie). She wants to become partners with McCabe in his business, promising that she can import finer quality whores from San Francisco and spruce up the place to make the clientele much happier and generate more money. McCabe eventually agrees, and true to her promise Mrs. Miller makes the saloon much more classy and hospitable, not to mention much more profitable.

As time goes on, the two become closer and this is where it becomes apparent that there is a love story developing in the film. McCabe tries to get closer to Mrs. Miller, but she keeps everything on a business basis. It is obvious she has been hurt many times in the past by men like him. Everything seems to be travelling nicely in the town until one evening when McCabe is approached by two men representing a monopolistic mining company that is interested in buying out his holdings. He rejects their offers, but when he returns to Mrs. Miller and tells her the news, she lets him know he has made a big mistake. He tries to find the men to accept their offer in the morning, but by then they are gone. Mrs. Miller tells him that the company will send someone to kill him.

The cinematography was done by Vilmos Zsigmond, whose past credits include Deliverance and The Deer Hunter. The results he obtained are of an extremely good quality. The lighting throughout the film is often low and subdued, which gives a suitably drab and dismal feel to many scenes. There is a very muddy look to a lot of the scenes which goes a long way to getting across the feel of the rugged frontier land.

  Video
Contract

This is an NTSC transfer, so if your system canít handle it, stay away. This format is becoming a bit more common locally these days, and the only reason I can see for it is laziness on the part of the studios.

The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The video transfer has a very soft quality to it, and some scenes appear to be almost out of focus due to the severity of this softness. After a while it does become a little irritating. This is not a fault of the transfer though, the softness was in the original source material. Warner have done a very good job with regards to the film artefacts. It was a pleasant surprise to find very few at all throughout the transfer, which is a good effort considering the film was made in 1971. The skin tones seem a little washed out and the colours in general seem a bit muted. The shadow detail is not the best, as details can be lost in the often murky scenes in the taverns. There are a few bursts of grain spread throughout, but they are very inconsequential and not overly noticeable.

The disc is single sided and dual layered with the layer change occurring at 61:15. It is placed near the end of a scene where there is no movement, and thus is a good place for it and it is hardly noticeable. There are five subtitle streams available; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Japanese. I viewed the English ones and for the most part they were accurate, though there was some abridging.

  Audio
Contract

There are two soundtracks available, and they are English and French, both in Dolby Digital mono. The mono is disappointing, for a film from this time period a 2.0 stereo track would seem to be the minimum to be expected. The dialogue mixing is fair, but there are many cases where a portion of the dialogue becomes lost in the surrounding chatter. There are no noticeable synch problems. Some scenes sounded a little hollow, particularly the action sequences.

I really like the score to this film. It is a series of original songs created by Leonard Cohen, mostly guitar dominated instrumentals and some voice songs. It has a very depressing feel to it, much like the film in general. There is perhaps a small amount of overuse of some of the songs, and some might say there is not too much variety between them. But overall they do suit the film well.

  Extras
Contract

There is a pretty good selection of extras included on the disc:

Audio Commentary - The feature length audio commentary is by director Robert Altman and producer David Foster. They discuss the usual things, such as location of the set, the actors and the processes in which they chose to complete certain things. Overall it is one of the better commentaries I have listened to, and it contains a wealth of information from the pair.

Behind the Scenes Documentary - Running for 9:33, this is a short production showing some footage on the making of the film, with a description of the locations and information about how they had built the town of Presbyterian Church from scratch.

Theatrical Trailer - The original theatrical trailer which runs for 1:59, it has no speech but is set to some of the songs in the film by Leonard Cohen.

Cast Bios - A list of the cast and crew, with a filmography of Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.

  Overall  
Contract

Without a doubt, this is one of Robert Altmanís most brilliant films. Itís a Western but not a Western, a love story but not a love story - it is genre deconstruction at its very best. You need to watch McCabe & Mrs. Miller more than once to fully grasp the main themes and what Altman was trying to get at with this film. It is ultimately a very sad film, full of unfulfilled lives and a main character with a desperate need for understanding that no one can give him.


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      And I quote...
    "One of Robert Altmanís most brilliant films, itís a Western but not a Western, a love story but not a love story - it is genre deconstruction at its very best."
    - Robert Mack
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DE475
    • Speakers:
          Sony
    • Centre Speaker:
          Sony
    • Surrounds:
          Sony
    • Subwoofer:
          Sony Active Superwoofer
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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