Derik Badman's Journal

2021-04-04 09:58

Watched some more westerns as inspiration for my game (which I released a v0.3 version of). Yesterday it was Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller which I've been meaning to watch for a longtime and showed up on Criterion this month. I can't say I loved it, but it has a ton of atmosphere. Weather is really important in it, from rain and snow to just shots of the sun behind the trees (another Pacific Northwest type of western, rather than a plains/desert one). The interiors are cramped and dark, the exteriors are often disorienting, no orderly streets in the town, nothing flat, everything looks makeshift, set at different levels with stairs and ramps and a variety of rickety bridges. The soundtrack by Leonard Cohen also adds a lot of mood.

Plotwise it follows a gambler who comes to town (apparently with money) and builds a saloon, brothel, and bathhouse with the help of a woman who shows up with an offer to handle the women. There's almost a love story, or there's a love story in the background held at bay that slips through in one or two scenes. Mostly it is about the man's hubris, and about corporate greed. I've come to expect ensemble movies from Altman based on the ones I've seen, and this one feels a little lacking in that respect, the various side characters aren't much differentiated, and the women in general are underused. Even Mrs. Miller doesn't get much interiority. She smokes dope, but we don't really get a sense of what lead her to it. Really downbeat ending for both of them.

This morning I rewatched High Noon which also is fairly downbeat and dark. Not because there is a ton of violence or that the protagonist dies, but just because it is very cynical about people. Gary Cooper spends almost the whole movie looking nervous and worried. Many of the townsfolks are the same with guilt added in. They all have excuses and reasons for not helping him when a released criminal and his gang come back for revenge. You kind of just want to scream at them "if you all just stood up to them there wouldn't be a problem," or "if you all just hid behind your windows with rifles you could just shoot the bad guys." The shadow of McCarthyism hangs over the film (though I can't say I'd have thought of that without having read some about the movie).