McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Impression: This is one of those movies set in a lot of snow and cold, and it makes you cold just to look at it. The coats are massive and the snow never stops falling.  At first the overlapping dialogue is jarring. It had been a while since I last saw a Robert Altman movie, so I forgot that this was a signature move. But after the first couple of minutes, you get used to it.  So many movies clearly edit each person’s speaking part, that we’ve been trained to expect cinema to be delivered that way. It becomes disorienting to hear sounds and words overlapping the way they would appear in reality, although if you’ve ever rewatched a home movie, it’s exactly like that.  Leonard Cohen provides the entire beautiful soundtrack, but it also feels like both a perfect match and at the same time incongruous with the setting.  The words match the action on screen, but Cohen’s voice and melody, seem so very urban and far away from a rough Northwestern town, where the action takes place.  I’ve seen this movie described as an anti-western. And after seeing it, I get it. Westerns are usually all about the hero and the glory, and this is all about the drudgery and the misery of living in this small town. Life seems unbearably rough: the cold, the dirt, the brutality. The story follows McCabe (Warren Beatty), who is not too bright and not too great a businessman who wants to start a whorehouse, and Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), an opium addicted madam who shows up to give him advice and create a more luxurious (although in this town, that just means less savage) experience than he had originally planned and in the process make him a lot more money. None of the characters are necessarily likeable, but they grow on you, and the situations and the setting help you make sense of their character and actions. This is one of those movies that has been on my list to see for many years, and I am glad I finally got around to it.

Facts:  A fast talker, but not so great a businessman and an opium addicted madam set up a whorehouse in a bleak Northwestern coal town sometime in the early 20th century.

Extras: A lot of interesting information about the movie in this article, including why “the ampersand is important! I edited the title accordingly.