McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Critics Consensus

McCabe & Mrs. Miller offers revisionist Western fans a landmark early addition to the genre while marking an early apogee for director Robert Altman.



Total Count: 49


Audience Score

User Ratings: 8,647
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Movie Info

In a small American frontier village, a stranger named McCabe builds a brothel with the help of experienced madame Mrs. Miller. The town soon prospers, and success brings the jealous -- and potentially deadly -- attentions of a wealthy mining company in this classic, idiosyncratic reworking of the Western genre.

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Critic Reviews for McCabe & Mrs. Miller

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (11)

  • Robert Altman's wintry 1971 anti-Western gives Warren Beatty one of his best roles as the doomed gambler McCabe: boastful, shy, foolish, altogether lovable.

    Nov 2, 2018 | Full Review…
  • One of the best of Altman's early movies, using classic themes -- the ill-fated love of gambler and whore, the gunman who dies by the gun, the contest between little man and big business -- to produce a non-heroic Western.

    Aug 9, 2016 | Full Review…
  • A period story about a small northwest mountain village where stars Warren Beatty and Julie Christie run the bordello, the production suffers from overlength; also a serious effort at moody photography which backfires into pretentiousness.

    Sep 4, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Still Robert Altman's best moment, this 1971 antiwestern murmurs softly of love, death, and capitalism.

    Sep 4, 2007 | Full Review…
  • Altman's capacity for fashioning an oddball romance without defeating the tough political implications of the story make this one of the greatest of all westerns and a key work in American cinema.

    May 4, 2007 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • If anything, Robert Altman's self-styled "anti-western" looks even richer, stranger and more daring than it did when it first appeared back in 1971.

    May 4, 2007 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

    Xan Brooks

    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for McCabe & Mrs. Miller

  • Sep 05, 2016
    Despite falling under the veil of the ubiquitous anti-Western craze of the late 60s/70s, this movie is still rather unique. It's certainly pessimistic but neither of the main characters are violent sociopaths. Like most of Altman's work, the languid pace can occasionally test one's patience but the ending is undeniably brilliant.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Jun 22, 2014
    People, get ready for a western that breaks a whole lot of grounds by... featuring a Jew! You know, even though it's pronounced "Mac-Abe", when I see the name "McCabe", I can't help but think about the Maccabees, and then I can't help but think about Ross Geller in an armadillo costume, teaching his son about Hanukkah. If you're old enough to get that esoteric reference to a Christmas episode on "Friends", then you might be old enough to remember this film, although this film is about, oh, um, almost 25 years old than any episode of "Friends". Remember, people, that this film was dramatically groundbreaking as a western for 1971, which can mean either that it stands to be a little edgier, based on today's standards, or that it is kind of boring. You'd think it's the latter, seeing as how it seems like it would be hard to get much seriousness out of the film that Robert Altman did right after "MASH", especially considering that this film is enough like "MASH" in that it goes way off book as a western, and not just because it doesn't feature John Wayne. Where "MASH" focused on the medical personnel during a conflict, rather than all of those pesky military action sequences, this film gets rid of all of that silly cowboy gun-fighting and what have you, meaning that it ought to a real riot. Actually, this film is about gambling and prostitution, so it must not be too much duller than the usual western, and it helps that it's actually pretty good, despite its issues. Seeing as how this is such an intimate drama, you really get to know much of the depth to interesting characters and their intriguing stories, but there's also a sort of ambiguity that defines this film, just enough for lacking immediate development and spare gradual exposition to challenge your investment about as much as the contrivances. Mind you, the manipulative aspects are pretty limited in this genuine and realist drama of distinct subtlety, but when that subtlety lapses, whether it be through Leonard Cohen's forced and overly thematic folk ballads, or through a certain sentimentality, if not histrionics, it really betrays the grace of this film. The film tries so hard so often, and that's both admirable and problematic, because when the drama loses its comfort with storytelling, not much beyond the charm of ambition is left to obscure the narrative's natural limitations. This film is so minimalist for a western that the minimalism plays a part in keeping the final product from feeling all that much like a western, and although it compensates for a lack of western flare with plenty of dramatic effectiveness, there's still something lacking about this particular western's dynamicity, if not fun factor. If the natural shortcomings don't defuse momentum from the get-go, entertainment value goes challenged along the way by all of the dragging and aimless plot points, whose immediate blandness is exacerbated by the points in which the directorial meditation loses material to work with, resulting in some serious dry spells that are sometimes rather dull. I'm not going to lie, the film is boring on plenty of occasions, and those are just the occasions in which problems found throughout the project are really emphasized, after wearing down the final product enough for it to fall short for some. The patient, however, are sure to be won over through all of the limp spots that are ultimately overpowered by rich substance, and equally rich aesthetic value. The film's look is hardly all that sweepingly extensive, especially for a western look, but as a western, this film boasts very unique art direction by Philip Thomas and Al Locatelli which crafts a turn of the century environment distinctly, almost to the point of a certain attractiveness. Of course, that might simply be the attractiveness of Vilmos Zsigmond's outstanding cinematography, which, I must say, is near-breathtaking, with a subdued color palette and chilled emphasis on sparse lighting that are almost dreamy in their being so haunting, and honestly have to be seen in order to be believed. Really, there's a lot of tasteful style to this film, and while such things as Leonard Cohen's experimental folk soundtrack, and maybe certain thematic visuals try a touch too hard to flavor up this occasionally contrived drama, there's an artistic integrity to this film that is almost as uncommon for a western as this film's story. Set in the [u]north[/u]west region of Washington during the turn into the 20th century, underplaying many distinct western archetypes, and abandoning all of the cowboying in order to focus more on town folks and their more complex affairs, this film barely feels like a western, and while that means that this story is lacking a fun factor, in addition to some intriguing dynamicity, it also means that this narrative is unique, and that reflects a dramatic potential that Robert Altman's and Brian McKay's script does justice with a wit and some colorful set pieces which subtly challenge the limp spells, and with enough thoughtfulness to uneven exposition to provide a sense of intimacy to this character study. This feeling is augmented by naturalist performances found across the board in this respectable acting vehicle, from which Warren Beatty - as a gambler who begins to try his luck at more than just poker - and Julie Christie - as a flawed woman who holds more sophistication and anguish than one might thin - stand out with realized performances and chemistry that carry much of this drama's heart. Of course, these are not the only leading performances which drive the drama, for although there are manipulative occasions to Altman's direction, more often than not, bland meditativeness is punctuated by genuine dramatic bite whose thoughtful style and delicate pace resonate. The film's engagement value is subtle, so much so that I can't promise anyone will be engrossed, but for those willing to take this film for what it is and embrace its grace, through all of the limp spots is an inspired drama whose style and substance stand out enough to thoroughly reward the patient. Overall, there is a hint of underdevelopment and contrivance that stress a natural thinness to plotting momentum almost as much as questionable storytelling momentum, whose cold spells threaten the final product, but just barely, as there is enough immersion value to the subtle art direction, strike to the stunning cinematography, and intrigue to a unique and intimate story that is brought to life by a clever script, naturalist performances and resonant direction to secure Robert Altman's "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" as a subtly, but surely rewarding "anti-western" and tasteful character study. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 17, 2013
    A hidden gem and one of my favourites of Altman's work (and to be honest I didn't like many of his 'masterpieces'). It is story of the old West but constructed in the manner of a dream that we gaze longingly at.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 14, 2013
    Widely considered one of the best revisionist Westerns in the genre, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is certainly an unconventional film for its time. Set in the turn-of-the-century Western wild, the film tells the story of an ambitious man who encounters an equally ambitious prostitute. Together the couple become a powerful force in the community, only to be confronted with the harsh realities of the life. A Robert Altman film, McCabe and Mrs. Miller is beautifully shot. The scenes are composed with great care, an Altman Hallmark, beautifully strung together to reveal a really wondrous landscape. This is set against good performances, with Julie Chrstie stealing the show. What I appreciated most was the grittiness. The film sets itself apart from other Westerns in that it doesn't romanticize the era, rather paints a vivid, often more realistic, portrait of the time. It also has a sense of nuance and moral grey areas not seen in many Westerns at the time. My issue with the film primarily centers on the relationship between McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I felt their relationship was never properly developed, and felt occasionally forced. The back-story for both characters is lacking, with McCabe seemingly offering a very interesting character of pronounced masculine insecurity and vulnerability, yet this is never really explored. Had the film developed this relationship to a fuller extent, it would have been all the stronger. Altman seems to spend too much time on things second to the primary narrative, that the heart of the story is somewhat neglected, and therefore a bit meandering. Overall, a film of merit, but flawed in a narrative sense. 3.5/5 Stars
    Jeffrey M Super Reviewer

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