McCabe & Mrs. Miller

Released:  1971

Cast:  Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Rene Auberjonois, Michael Murphy, William Devane, Shelley Duvall, John Schuck, Keith Carradine, Bert Remsen

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Julie Christie)

SUMMARY:  One winter day, a professional gambler named John McCabe (Warren Beatty) rides into the small mining town of Presbyterian Church, Washington (named for its most prominent building).  Most of the men in town are drawn to McCabe, who is a newcomer, has a strong personality, and is rumored to be an ex-gunfighter.  On his very first night in town, McCabe inquires about the local business and land owners, and decides to go into business himself.  He hires a group of local men to start building a brothel, while he travels to a nearby town and purchases three low-end prostitutes.  He sets these women up in tents while construction begins on the brothel, and is soon firmly established.  Not long after opening, a woman named Constance Miller (Julie Christie) appears in town, looking for McCabe.  To his amazement, she tells him that she is a professional prostitute (and an opium addict, which she does not reveal to McCabe), and could turn his tiny, dirty business into an empire.  At first, McCabe refuses the offer, but ultimately Mrs. Miller convinces him (she also has a huge amount of business experience and is very good at math, something McCabe is not very good at).  Immediately, she begins making changes to the business, beginning with a bathhouse:  the men are required to have a bath before they are even allowed into the brothel, which also has a saloon.  McCabe soon realizes that Mrs. Miller was telling the truth:  she turns the business into a thriving empire, and makes McCabe into one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in town.  Though an attraction develops between McCabe and Mrs. Miller, they remain primarily business partners.

Soon, news of the successful business travels to other towns.  It draws in new customers — and representatives from the Harrison Shaughnessy mining company, who are interested in purchasing the town’s land in order to mine zinc.  They also want to buy McCabe’s entire holdings.  When they present McCabe with an offer, he turns them down flat, and asks a price three times as much.  He is very pleased with his business skills, but when he tells Mrs. Miller, she informs him that the mining company is infamous for killing people who won’t sell to them.  Despite her warning, McCabe is convinced that he can come out on top.  He is approached once more, with a slightly larger offer, but again refuses.  He agrees to meet with the two men the next morning, but wakes up to find that they have left town.  Several days later, three new men arrive in town, also from the mining company.  These men — Butler, Breed and Kid — are clearly bounty hunters, and news of their arrival spreads quickly.  When McCabe hears, he seeks them out, trying to ward off a deadly confrontation.  In a meeting, he tries to backpedal and make a deal to sell his holdings, but Butler announces that they are not in town to make a deal.  Butler also questions McCabe about his alleged past as a gunfighter:  in particular, McCabe is rumored to have shot a man using a Derringer.  McCabe finally confirms the story, but after he leaves the meeting, Butler announces that McCabe has never killed anyone.  McCabe desperately tries to find the two original representatives and sell, but they are long gone.  McCabe realizes that he will have to shoot it out with the bounty hunters, and returns to Presbyterian Church.  Early the next morning, he takes a gun into the church’s bell tower, which he intends to use as a gun nest.  However, he is confronted and ousted by the preacher — who also keeps the rifle.  McCabe leaves, only minutes before Butler arrives looking for him.  When he opens the church door, he mistakes the preacher for McCabe and shoots him:  the preacher then drops the lit lantern he was holding.  McCabe sneaks through town, and manages to kill Kid in the bathhouse and Breed through a store window — but is shot himself in the gut.  Meanwhile, a fire has started in the church, and everybody in town races to put it out.  Butler finally finds McCabe and shoots him, but when he approaches the body, McCabe sits up and shoots him with a Derringer.  He then struggles to make it back to the brothel, but is unable to do so before he succumbs to his wounds.  As the townspeople celebrate putting out the fire, he dies alone in the snow; Mrs. Miller is shown to be visiting an opium den.

MY TAKE:  I’m not sure what is so special about this movie.  The plot is not outstanding, and while the scenery is nice, most Westerns have good scenery.  There’s actually not a whole lot of dialogue in the movie, either.  Nothing really sticks out to me — it wasn’t super-boring, but it was far from exciting.  I can’t even think of any interesting comments.  It’s just a routine movie.

RATING:  Un-special.


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