McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) (NTSC)

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Released 29-Jul-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Western Main Menu Audio
Filmographies-Cast
Listing-Cast & Crew
Audio Commentary
Featurette
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 120:51
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:16) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4 Directed By Robert Altman
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Warren Beatty
Julie Christie
Rene Auberjonois
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Leonard Cohen


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Spanish
Portuguese
Japanese
Smoking Yes, opium
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, end credits over end of film

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    McCabe & Mrs. Miller is an interesting film that you will either love or hate. Although technically a "Western" in the sense it is set in the Old West, the storyline goes out of its way to break a few stereotypes of the Western genre. Directed and co-written by Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, The Player), the film is based on a novel called McCabe by Edmund Naughton (who also participated in the screen writing).

    John McCabe (Warren Beatty) is your typical Old West entrepreneur - he is a poker player who decides that the best money making opportunity in the frontier mining town of Presbyterian Church is to open a whorehouse/tavern. His shady past (he was rumoured to have killed someone) earns him respect amongst the locals. He buys three prostitutes and soon the locals are queuing for their chance to sample his merchandise.

    Soon others decide they want to cash in. Mrs Miller (Julie Christie), a madam arrives on train and offers John a deal - his capital plus her expertise will make more money for both of them than if they competed against one another. Surprisingly, the partnership prospers and the two even start feeling a bit tender towards each other (when they are not arguing or yelling at each other, that is).

    Soon the Evil Big Corporation moves in and decide they want to buy in on the action. They make John an offer he is not supposed to refuse, but he stubbornly refuses to sell out of pride, and also a desire to hang out for a better offer. Three gunmen, led by Butler (Hugh Millais), are sent to kill him. I won't reveal any more of the plot, but suffice it to say there's a shootout involved.

    This film is definitely worth watching multiple times because there are a lot of subtle details that you may miss the first time around. For example, when I first watched it, I completely missed how Mrs. Miller managed to find out about McCabe and the sub-plot around Bart and Ida.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented in the intended aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced, based on a 35mm film print. It is yet another Warner NTSC transfer -  the region 1 release warmed up for local release.

    Ouch! This transfer is certainly hard on the eyes, and has all the hallmarks of being taken from a badly deteriorated film print. The film source is rather soft and grainy, and suffers from faded and over-exposed colours, not to mention colour smearing.

    If you use an LCD video projector (like me), you might as well give up enjoying this film on the projector and just play it on your TV instead (you do still own a TV, don't you?). LCD video projectors tend to have poor absolute black levels (which look grey rather than black) and rely on contrast to provide adequate depth to the picture. Well, this film is full of scenes which are mostly black and devoid of shadow level detail with the odd murky splash of subdued colours, which are guaranteed to look terrible when displayed using an LCD projector. An example right from the beginning of the film is most of Chapter 2 around 4:43-7:32.

    So imagine my surprise when I found out listening to the audio commentary track that director Robert Altman deliberately exposed the film to a tiny bit of light after shooting to create the faded colours and poor black levels. Apparently the intention was to create an olde worlde look reminiscent of the photographs of the period. So I guess we can't really blame the telecine process or the condition of the film print!

     I did not notice any MPEG compression artefacts, but they would have been hard to spot amongst the graininess, lack of detail and murky dark scenes.

    There are a number of subtitle tracks on this single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). I had to turn on the English subtitle track for quite a lot of the film because I found the dialogue somewhat hard to understand. The quality of the subtitle track is about average, and does not include additional details for the Hearing Impaired (maybe I fall under this category!).

    I did not notice where the layer change was on initial viewing, so it is definitely well-placed at 61:16 at the end of Mrs. Miller's opium smoking scene.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three audio tracks on the disc: English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192kb/s), French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192kb/s), English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s). I listened to both English tracks.

    Apart from the songs by Leonard Cohen, which sound just fine, most of the dialogue in the film is quite soft, indistinct, and muddy. It was very hard for me to make out what the characters are saying, especially when they whisper quickly (with thick accents to boot!). In the end, I had to resort to turning on the English subtitle track and I left it on for the rest of the film.

    I did not notice any audio synchronization issues. Obviously, since the soundtrack is in mono, only the centre channel speaker got engaged.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    The extras are limited to a commentary track, a short featurette and a theatrical trailer.

Menu

    The menus are static but 16x9 enhanced. The main menu includes background audio.

Filmographies - Cast

    This is a set of stills providing filmographies for:

Listing - Cast & Crew

    This is a single still providing a short listing of cast and crew.

Audio Commentary

    This is an interesting commentary track by director Robert Altman and co-producer David Foster. Both were relative unknowns when the film was being made (Robert's main claim to fame up till that point had been in making instructional videos). At first film distributors weren't so interested in the film, but the success of M*A*S*H (Robert's other film, which was released a few months earlier than this film) suddenly made this film hot property.

    Robert and David take turns providing comments pretty much continuously throughout the film. I don't know whether they were recorded together or separately but this sounds like an edited commentary rather than "live".

    Interesting facts revealed in this commentary include:

    I get the feeling that both David and Robert are somewhat hurt and perplexed that film did not do well during it's initial theatrical release. I must admit this film is not easy to digest on initial watching, and I agree with their comments that a different ending may have improved it's box office potential even though it may not be faithful to the book.

Featurette (9:33)

    This is an interesting making-of featurette that shows how the town of Presbyterian Church was built over time for the film, together with a plot synopsis and excerpts from the film. The video transfer is interesting because it is 1.33:1 but 16x9 enhanced, which means it is mail-slotted with black bars on either side. The audio transfer is Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kb/s). The transfer is somewhat scratchy and grainy with faded colours.

Theatrical Trailer (1:59)

    This is presented in 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192 kb/s). The video transfer is rather grainy and the audio is an excerpt from one of Leonard Cohen's songs.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 and 4 versions of this title are identical.

Summary

    McCabe and Mrs. Miller is an interesting film based on a novel about a man who starts a whorehouse in a frontier town in partnership with an experienced madam. It's not easy to digest but worth watching multiple times. The video transfer (NTSC) is poor but mostly because of an artistic decision to soften the picture by 'flashing' the film to light after shooting to create an olde worlde look. The audio transfer is not exceptional. Extras include a commentary track, a featurette and a trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Saturday, September 14, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Flashing -
Picture Q of McCabe -