Sunday, February 05, 2012

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

How do you define Western?


I am reading the biography of Pauline Kael (movie reviewer for THE NEW YORKER for many years) and it relates how she got behind this film despite loathing Westerns. I think it was more about Robert Altman and perhaps Warren Beatty than the film itself.

I never thought of this film as a western and I wondered if you who love and know westerns consider this to be one. And if you do (or don't) what you think of it.

Is this any more of a western than M*A*S*H was a war movie or is it Altman exploring eras or something like it through film.

As for me, I remember being impressed at the time (I was like 20) but I don't remember it all that well.

My latest movie review, A DANGEROUS METHOD, is on Crimespree.

22 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Oh, now I feel old; I haven't thought of this movie in years. I don't remember the details well, but I don't think I remember being hit over the head with the "western" theme...

Charles Gramlich said...

I know I've seen it but I don't remember any details. Western esqu perhaps.

MP said...

Sure it's a western. What else could it be? In fact, it's one of my two favorite westerns, the other being Howard Hawks' "Rio Bravo". "McCabe" isn't as traditional, whatever that may mean, but it has enough of the trappings of a western that it would be tough to call it anything else. Whereas with "M*A*S*H",you could legitimately call it a comedy rather than a war movie. Altman certainly didn't color inside the lines, but he did some great genre work. Is "The Long Goodbye" a film noir or a private eye movie? Yep, and a great one at that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Rio Bravo is my favorite.
Yes, tough to call it anything else but it's kinda Altmanized. The style and character overwhelm the plot in his movies. Not that that is a bad thing. Altman's movies are definitely of the auteur variety.

Anonymous said...

As with so much of Robert Altman's work I thought it was terribly overrated. But then, I thought NASHVILLE was overrated and LONG GOODBYE was unwatchable, though I know people who consider it a classic.

Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

People seem to come down squarely in one camp or the other. I have enjoyed some of his films but not all of them.

Roger said...

Not just a western, but one of the greatest westerns.

Richard R. said...

I always thought of it as a western, though I saw it later, on rented VHS and didn't like it very well, it seemed a western for it's setting, time and place.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess a definition of what a western is would be useful. I may stick that at the top.

Deb said...

It's not a "cowboys and indians" western, certainly, but it's set in a western mining town during America's westward expansion, so I would call it a western. The haunting Leonard Cohen song "The Stranger" adds immeasurably to the movie. Altman was always good at choosing the right music to set the tone.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, he was. That really comes into play over the years.

Cap'n Bob said...

I watched this again recently and realized I'd forgotten almost everything about it. But I'd definitely call it a Western. It also was an indictment of big businesses (including the mob) that try to take over a busines that someone else built into a success.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Okay. I have to rent it then. I think I forgot almost everything other than the romance.

Ron Scheer said...

It's a story set in the frontier West; that makes it a western. I didn't used to think this way, but reading early-early novels set in the West has changed my mind. I watch parts of this film every once in a while but hate the crappy quality of the DVD. A friend considers it proto-DEADWOOD. I tend to agree. The theme of big capital crushing small-time entrepreneurs is a common one in early western fiction.

Brian Busby said...

i've read more than once that Robert Altman considered McCabe and Mrs Miller to be an "anti-western". While I've never been certain what he meant by this, I recognize that it does play with conventions. I first saw the film at the Pacific Cinemateque in downtown Vancouver, just a few miles from where it was shot. That knowledge, with the Leonard Cohen songs (which to these ears are so much a part of 'sixties Montreal), have always made it seem all the more unusual. Must add that I've never been able to think about Deadwood (my very favourite series), without also thinking about the film.

Gerard said...

I have not seen that flick.

I never liked Pauline Kael. My father subscribed to The New Yorker and I would read her reviews and just get annoyed. I thought her attitude was always "If it's not French it is crap."

pattinase (abbott) said...

She was known for her very, very strong opinions. If she loved a film, she would go to the wall for it. But if not....

Todd Mason said...

Kael was a second-rate critic. Not the worst thing to be, but her tendency to let her pet peeves among other things overwhelm her analytical abilities kept her out of the first rank.

If this isn't a western, what on Earth is it, Patti? You were just making the argument that, applied to this film, it had to be a western, with your book review of the Austen-tribute novel last week.

Goodness. And what the hell is M*A*S*H if not a military comedy? Essentially a war film, but one which avoids battle for the most part...a more sophisticated take on the same matter as McHALE'S NAVY or HOGAN'S HEROES.

Altman was a self-indulgent stylist, but that didn't make all his work bad by any means, any more than similar self-indulgence always hurt Kubrick or Hitchcock. But none of those three were consistently good. At their best, maybe not even second-rate, in the same class as Bergman and Welles (now there's an uneven talent!) and...

Todd Mason said...

"Not even second-rate" as in "first-rate" at their best, as you might or might not "get" in context. Even Bergman nodded, mostly with early trifles such as MONIKA.

Todd Mason said...

Oddly, the tv series M*A*S*H got to be more a war drama than the film did.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Agreed. But it didn't get to that position till after the first couple years.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, I'd suggest the early M*A*S*H tv episodes were also more concerned with the war per se than was the film. But both were foremost concerned with the lunacy of Army life, at least from the draftees' perspective.