Saturday, April 23, 2011

Twice Upon a Time in the West

I guess I'm not much of  fan of cowboy movies - that's my only excuse for having not seen McCabe & Mrs. Miller until now. This was Robert Altman's 1971 revisionist Western, and I became a big Altman fan in '76 or there abouts.

It stars Warren Beatty as McCabe, a gambler who comes to a frontier town in Washington state to set up a whorehouse. Julie Christie shows up shortly, to let him know that he needs an experienced partner. The house flourishes, becoming the center of civilization and refinement for the town. But when the syndicate from the city decides to take over, will McCabe be tough enough to hold onto it, or was he just a big talking blowhard? Remember, it's a revisionist Western.

The story is sordid and sad, with McCabe realizing too late that the only woman he ever loved, Mrs. Miller, is a whore, and not even realizing that she is also addicted to opium. But it is also very beautiful - the wet and snowy country, the rough-hewn town rising out of a few shacks and tents. Like Popeye, it seems that half the film is about the architecture of the town, the other is mumbled dialog that you can only half understand.

The loveliness and sadness is greatly enhanced by Leonard Cohen's lovely music - sounding so young, not even 40.

Now, you might call Jonah Hex a revisionist Western - it sure isn't a traditional one. It's based on the DC comic book about a hideously scarred bounty hunter. In the movie, he is played by Josh Brolin with some real heavy, gross makeup. When Hex was in the Confederate Army, he made his commanding officer, John Malkovich, mad. I'd like to mention that I don't think much of Malkovich as an actor - those beady little eyes and weird affected speech. But don't mind him in comic roles (Red) or as a psycho villain. That seems to work for him.

Malkovich killed his family and burned the right side of Hex's face off and left him to die. But some Crow birds and Crow Indians brought him back to life. This gives him a superpower - he can talk to the dead. Still, all he seems to want out of life is to catch bad guys for the bounties and hang with his prostitute girlfriend, Megan Fox. Oh, there's the connection to McCabe and Mrs. Miller!

Anyway, Malkovich gets this steampunk superweapon and plans to use it on President Grant (Aidan Quinn in a very unlikely role). So Hex gets to save the day and get revenge on the man who killed his family.

Really, this movie has more in common with Wild, Wild West than McCabe and Mrs. Miller, including steampunk weaponry and sketchy President Grant roles. I think it was about as well received - that is, poorly. Well, we enjoyed it for what it was, a silly action movie. McCabe and Mrs. Miller was lovely, and left me thoughtful and depressed. Jonah Hex was silly, and left me slightly stupider and entertained.


mr. schprock said...

I just put "McCabe" in the queue. 25 years ago or so, it was on TV and I only saw the scene where the young cowboy gets tricked into drawing his gun so the bad guy could murder him without getting the blame. That one scene broke my heart and has stayed with me all these years. Can't wait to watch it.

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Spoiler - prepare to have your heart broken again.