McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

R | 120-121 mins | Western | 24 June 1971

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HISTORY

Working titles for the film were The Presbyterian Church Wager , McCabe and John McCabe . Louis Lombardo's onscreen credit reads: "film editor and 2nd unit director." An Oct 1968 HR news item noted that producer David Foster, who made his motion picture debut with McCabe & Mrs. Miller , originally intended to release the picture through Twentieth Century-Fox with a screenplay by Ben Maddow , but Maddow did not contribute to the completed picture.
       A biography of director Robert Altman states that Elliott Gould was originally considered for the role of “McCabe,” but that Warren Beatty was necessary to secure financing for the film. Julie Christie was already cast and had a romantic relationship with Beatty at the time. The biography also indicates that Altman re-wrote almost half of Brian McKay’s script and that writers Robert Towne and Joseph Calvelli also contributed. During filming, Altman encouraged both Beatty and Christie to rework their dialogue as well. The biography notes that shooting outdoors in constantly changing weather made it difficult to maintain consistent sound quality. Altman, who did not favor re-takes or dubbing, refused to make any other adjustments to the sound, contributing to a certain muffled quality compounded by the director’s preference for over-lapping dialogue.
       Several cast members in McCabe & Mrs. Miller either previously worked or would work in the future for Altman, among them Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck and Michael Murphy, who all appeared in the 1970 Twentieth Century-Fox release M*A*S*H (see below) and the 1970 M-G-M release Brewster McCloud (see above). Keith Carradine, who ... More Less

Working titles for the film were The Presbyterian Church Wager , McCabe and John McCabe . Louis Lombardo's onscreen credit reads: "film editor and 2nd unit director." An Oct 1968 HR news item noted that producer David Foster, who made his motion picture debut with McCabe & Mrs. Miller , originally intended to release the picture through Twentieth Century-Fox with a screenplay by Ben Maddow , but Maddow did not contribute to the completed picture.
       A biography of director Robert Altman states that Elliott Gould was originally considered for the role of “McCabe,” but that Warren Beatty was necessary to secure financing for the film. Julie Christie was already cast and had a romantic relationship with Beatty at the time. The biography also indicates that Altman re-wrote almost half of Brian McKay’s script and that writers Robert Towne and Joseph Calvelli also contributed. During filming, Altman encouraged both Beatty and Christie to rework their dialogue as well. The biography notes that shooting outdoors in constantly changing weather made it difficult to maintain consistent sound quality. Altman, who did not favor re-takes or dubbing, refused to make any other adjustments to the sound, contributing to a certain muffled quality compounded by the director’s preference for over-lapping dialogue.
       Several cast members in McCabe & Mrs. Miller either previously worked or would work in the future for Altman, among them Rene Auberjonois, John Schuck and Michael Murphy, who all appeared in the 1970 Twentieth Century-Fox release M*A*S*H (see below) and the 1970 M-G-M release Brewster McCloud (see above). Keith Carradine, who made his feature film debut in McCabe & Mrs. Miller , and Shelley Duvall would also appear in Altman's 1974 United Artists' release Thieves Like Us and Paramount's 1975 release of Nashville (see below).
       The film was shot on location in Vancouver, Canada, according to contemporary sources. According to Filmfacts , upon its initial release, the first two major prints of McCabe & Mrs. Miller for critical screenings on the East and West Coasts were rushed from a Canadian laboratory with poor sound quality and color fidelity, resulting in a hostile critical reception. Upon viewing corrected prints later, two critics changed their negative reviews. Since its initial release, many critics have listed McCabe & Mrs. Miller as one of Altman’s finest films, made distinctive by its sound quality and evocative color tint. Julie Christie received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her work in the film. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1970.
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 189-93.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Oct 1968.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 1970
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1971
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jun 1971
p. 3, 20.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1971.
---
Los Angeles Times
1 Aug 1971.
---
Motion Picture Herald
11 Aug 1971.
---
New York Times
25 Jun 1971
p. 17.
New York Times
20 Aug 1971.
---
New Yorker
3 Jul 1971.
---
Saturday Review
7 Aug 1971.
---
Saturday Review
14 Aug 1971.
---
Variety
30 Jun 1971
p. 22.
Variety
4 Aug 1971.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANIES
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Robert Altman & David Foster Productions
The Robert Altman & David Foster Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d unit photog
Asst cam
Gaffer
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Ward asst
Ward asst
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Asst to the prod
Research
Casting
Auditor
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel McCabe by Edmund Naughton (New York, 1959).
SONGS
"Winter Lady," "Stranger Song" and "Sisters of Mercy," music and lyrics by Leonard Cohen.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
John McCabe
McCabe
The Presbyterian Church Wager
Release Date:
24 June 1971
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 24 June 1971
Production Date:
mid October 1970--late January 1971
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
24 June 1971
Copyright Number:
LP41631
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Alpha Cine
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Lenses/Prints
Print by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
120-121
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
22818
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the autumn of 1902, brash, small-time gambler John McCabe arrives in the rough-hewn northwest mining town of Presbyterian Church and at Patrick Sheehan’s saloon asks about buying property. Sheehan, Reverend Elliott, Mr. Smalley and several of the townsmen speculate that the overconfident McCabe might be a gunfighter, but McCabe insists he is a businessman and announces his intention to open the town’s first bordello. After purchasing a partially finished building with his gambling winnings, McCabe visits the neighboring town of Bearpaw where he negotiates for three whores. In a pouring rainstorm, McCabe returns with the women to Presbyterian Church where over the next couple of days, he struggles to maintain harmony between the loutish miners and the distrustful whores. Some days later, McCabe is startled by the arrival of British cockney Constance Miller who proposes that he back her in establishing a professional brothel. When McCabe points out that he already has a whorehouse, Constance responds that as a whore, she is in a unique position to understand the business of managing women and their customers, along with questions of hygiene and health issues that lie behind a truly successful business. Taken aback by Constance’s assertive attitude, McCabe nevertheless agrees to the deal and is surprised when Constance insists upon improving the crude accommodations for the women, including erecting a separate bathhouse and providing the women with new linens and toiletries. Although the miners initially resent and resist the requirements to bathe before visiting Constance and McCabe’s facility, they are soon tempted by the variety of women Constance has engaged from Seattle and settle into regular visits. ... +


In the autumn of 1902, brash, small-time gambler John McCabe arrives in the rough-hewn northwest mining town of Presbyterian Church and at Patrick Sheehan’s saloon asks about buying property. Sheehan, Reverend Elliott, Mr. Smalley and several of the townsmen speculate that the overconfident McCabe might be a gunfighter, but McCabe insists he is a businessman and announces his intention to open the town’s first bordello. After purchasing a partially finished building with his gambling winnings, McCabe visits the neighboring town of Bearpaw where he negotiates for three whores. In a pouring rainstorm, McCabe returns with the women to Presbyterian Church where over the next couple of days, he struggles to maintain harmony between the loutish miners and the distrustful whores. Some days later, McCabe is startled by the arrival of British cockney Constance Miller who proposes that he back her in establishing a professional brothel. When McCabe points out that he already has a whorehouse, Constance responds that as a whore, she is in a unique position to understand the business of managing women and their customers, along with questions of hygiene and health issues that lie behind a truly successful business. Taken aback by Constance’s assertive attitude, McCabe nevertheless agrees to the deal and is surprised when Constance insists upon improving the crude accommodations for the women, including erecting a separate bathhouse and providing the women with new linens and toiletries. Although the miners initially resent and resist the requirements to bathe before visiting Constance and McCabe’s facility, they are soon tempted by the variety of women Constance has engaged from Seattle and settle into regular visits. Although outwardly querulous over Constance’s brisk and efficient business manner, McCabe nevertheless is attracted to her and annoyed when she occasionally services customers for the extravagant sum of five dollars per visit. One night several weeks after the opening of the brothel, Constance joins McCabe in the bar with proceeds from their venture. McCabe is delighted by their success but Constance chastises him for his sloppy, inaccurate accounting and accuses him of losing money. Although several of the Seattle women know that Constance uses her proceeds to pay for her opium addiction, McCabe remains unaware of her habit, which she guards scrupulously. Just before Christmas, miner Bart Coyle is killed while defending his new, mail-order wife Ida from slander that she is a whore. The day after Bart’s death, Eugene Sears and Ernest Hollander, representatives for the Harrison and Shaunessy Mining Company, approach McCabe and explain the company would like to purchase McCabe’s holdings in Presbyterian Church. McCabe airily rejects the men’s offer of $5,500, then goes to the bathhouse before paying a call on Constance. When McCabe boasts about his rejection of the mining company representatives, Constance calls him a fool, but he insists they will make him a higher offer. That same evening, Sears and Hollander locate McCabe at the brothel and increase the offer to $6,250, but are amazed when he again turns them down and suggests he will only entertain an offer of $14,000 or more. Pleased with his financial acuity, McCabe returns to bed with a now stoned Constance. Later that same night, Sears and Hollander dine at Sheehan’s and Sears suggests they make McCabe a final offer of $7,000. Indignant over McCabe’s high-handed conduct and the shabbiness of the situation, Hollander refuses, declaring that the company’s hired gun, Butler, will handle McCabe. The next morning, McCabe is mystified to learn of Sears’s and Hollander’s departure. As the townspeople gather for Bart’s funeral, Constance and several miners note the arrival of a lone rider, who proves to be a cowboy in search of women. As the funeral breaks up, Constance offers Ida a place in the brothel. Word soon spreads through town of the arrival of three strangers and Constance immediately deduces that they have been sent by the company. She pleads with McCabe to leave town, if only to protect their joint investment, but McCabe remains confident that the company representatives will return. Smalley reports to McCabe and Constance that the men, Butler, Breed and Kid, refuse to speak with McCabe, who nevertheless sets off to Sheehan’s to meet them. Although daunted by Butler’s enormous bulk, McCabe attempts to bargain with him, admitting his exorbitant demand was a joke. Declaring he will settle for $6,550, McCabe is bewildered when Butler states that he does not make deals. Having learned from Sheehan that the miners originally considered McCabe a gunslinger, Butler tries to provoke McCabe by accusing him of shooting an acquaintance. McCabe does not refute the claim, but nervously departs, prompting Butler to observe that McCabe has never killed anyone. That evening, an increasingly anxious McCabe frets about Constance’s inability to appreciate his romantic nature, then early the next morning departs for Bearpaw, where he asks for Sears and Hollander at the mining company’s main office. Learning they have departed, McCabe visits a lawyer to inquire about obtaining legal protection from the company. Although the lawyer agrees to help McCabe fight against the might of big business, McCabe returns to Presbyterian Church convinced that he must face Butler and the others on his own. That afternoon Kid confronts the affable cowboy and shoots him down in cold blood as Sheehan and the others watch helplessly. That night, McCabe struggles to apologize to Constance and she sadly reassures him that all is well. Early the following morning as snow blankets the mountains, Constance takes a long walk. Armed with a rifle, McCabe goes to the partially constructed church where, from the tower, he spots the killers splitting up to search for him. Elliott discovers McCabe and, after confiscating the rifle, throws him out of the church. McCabe hides nearby and witnesses Butler kill Elliott, mistaking the gun-carrying minister for McCabe. McCabe then sneaks to his bar where he retrieves a pistol. Upon creeping away to a neighboring building, he is confronted by Kid who wounds him in the stomach before McCabe kills him. Meanwhile, the newly wakened townspeople are alarmed to discover the church has caught fire and rush to fight the flames, allowing Butler and Breed to search for McCabe more openly. Although bleeding heavily, McCabe kills Breed then heads to the forest at the edge of town. Butler follows and shoots at McCabe through a cascade of snow and when McCabe feigns death, Butler approaches to investigate, after which McCabe shoots him between the eyes. As the townspeople rejoice over saving the church, a snowstorm builds and everyone returns inside. McCabe struggles to reach the brothel, but collapses in the snow and dies slowly as Constance settles into an opium daze. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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