[box cover]

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

John McCabe (Warren Beatty) rides into the snowy mountain town of Presbyterian Church, settles down in the town's only saloon, breaks out a deck of cards, buys the room a bottle of whiskey, and instantly becomes the region's first entertainment tycoon. While the town's new church (and namesake) slowly progresses through its languid construction, McCabe quickly erects a popular saloon, gambling parlor and whorehouse, and establishes himself as leader of the community and an aggressive entrepreneur, symbolizing the pioneering spirit of the West. Like most post-'60s westerns, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is about the death of the frontier. McCabe, every bit an icon of American ambition and individualism, simply can't compete or keep pace with the unrelenting march of commerce, and the people of Presbyterian Church — Mrs. Miller included — are cruelly swept along, dislocated and discarded in its uncompromising course. Although there are many poor moments typical of Altman's sloppy oeuvre, the director perfectly captures the atmosphere. McCabe & Mrs. Miller is one of Altman's most beautifully shot films (Vilmos Zsigmond is the man behind the camera), and also vitally important to this film is the folky, haunting song score by Leonard Cohen. Beatty is terrific, while Christie, affecting in silence, gratingly overdoes her cockney accent. Also with Altman regulars Rene Aberjonouis, Shelley Duvall and Keith Carradine. Warner's DVD release of McCabe & Mrs. Miller offers an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that is a marked improvement over previous home-video incarnations, although there is occassional print damage, and the gloomy, grainy visual nature of the film rarely gives way to a perfectly clear picture. The audio, in monaural Dolby Digital, is also improved, but the English subtitles are a useful aide for a film in which so much of the dialogue is thrown away as barely overheard mumbling. Includes a lively commentary with director Altman and producer David Foster, a 10-minute promotional featurette, and a trailer. Snap-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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