McCabe and Mrs Miller is a real gem by director Robert Altman. It is a well acted, well crafted and beautifully filmed movie with a fantastic soundtrack of Leonard Cohens best music. It is a western that is very different from the westerns I grew up with. It documents a transitional time when the old west was changing into a more modern America. The scene with a new steam powered vehicle shows the technological changes and the films plot is about an entrepreneur's success which is in conflict with the ruthless practices of large business interests.
The casting is fantastic, from all the interesting minor characters to the fantastic work by Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Aberjenoir and Shelly Duvall, the acting is superior .
I watch this movie at least once a year and enjoy it every time.
Few westerns have succeeded so strangely yet so completely in evoking a sense of place and time than Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller". In fact, it's not really a western at all; certainly not like any western I've ever seen. It's setting is the Pacific Northwest; cold, rainswept and often covered in snow. There are gunslingers but they are more like the professional hit men of gangster movies. When Altman isn't filming through the haze of a rain-drenched exterior he is filming through the haze of a dimly lit interior where darkness is more prevalent than light. Above all, it doesn't have a conventional western hero. McCabe is like a tragi-comic Everyman out of his depth and his territory in this largely alien environment yet canny enough to apply his savvy into transforming the landscape into something tangible, real and materialistically American.
In this respect it is a very modern film in spite of its setting. The fact that Altman doesn't care very much about convention or even about narrative, (it's story is perfunctory; Altman is more interested in 'observing'), makes it so. But then "MASH" wasn't a conventional war movie either just as "Nashville" wasn't really about the country music business.
As for McCabe himself, Beatty plays him with the same laconic, stammering mannerisms he applies to all his roles, (and which he seems either blessed or cursed with in real life), and which actually makes him a perfect Altman hero, (or anti-hero, if you prefer). Mrs Miller, on the other hand, seems coolly distracted from what's going on around her. Julie Christie plays up her Englishness adding another element to the alienation of her character, a stranger in a strange land indeed, while in the foreground the songs of Leonard Cohen seem to hover like warm blankets, cosily familiar and comforting even at their bleakest. They could have been written for the film.