Screengrab: No heroes in Altman-land

Richard Lutz takes aim at the best film on the box this week

Screen GrabRight, fans, all you denizens of countries run by torturers in the US and UK. And, for that matter, all you citizens of Oz that imprison refugees onto penal islands ribboned with barbed wire:

News from movie lan d- The Financial Times reports that of the ten top grossing films in 2014, nine were fantasy efforts and seven of those were sequels. Top dog is Transformers: Age of Extinction which drew in $1 billionn. It is about cars that mutate and talk. Got it? You have to be seven years old or encumbered with the brain of a seven year old to relish it. Or a parent. Nothing new, fresh, incisive, witty and genre-busting gets near the list.


Critic Lynda Obst comments: “In Hollywood, familiarity breeds success. Not contempt.”

I wish I’d said that.

So with that newsflash out of the way, what we got for this week on the crystal box embedded above your electric fire?

How about something new, fresh, incisive, witty and genre-busting? Okay, how about McCabe and Mrs Miller  (Thu; Sky Movies Select, 6AM). Director Robert Altman called it his anti-western. No heroes, no steel-eyed showdowns in the dust, no heart of gold hookers, no reptile-eyed baddies. Everyone in this movie from 1971 is out for themself and no-one is the winner in the muddy snows of Alaska 100 years ago.

Julie Christie

Julie Christie

Warren Beatty is a crooked, deceiving gambler who teams up with opiated brothelkeeper Julie Christie to run a whorehouse for the miners during a gold rush. But big business wants to run them out of town so they can, well, run everything. They hire some evil musclemen to crowbar Beattie and Christie out of their moneymaking brothel. Julie wants to grab their offer and split. Beatty thinks they are bluffing. It’s all going to come down to a bit of gunplay in the Alaskan wilds in a half-built town.

This movie subverts the cowboy genre with witty élan. Beatty has that 1970’s twinkle in his eye looking for the main chance. Christie is high all the time but still level headed enough to give in, grab the cash and leave town. Beatty is a glib cowardly dolt. There are no heroes here in Altman-land. Whereas in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you liked Newman and Redford with their knowing fast-mouthed banter, in this story you are subjected to characters you’d run a mile from. They are simply not likeable. You know the type, the kind of folks you’d spend an evening with being entertained but then clamber over an electric fence to avoid the next day.

There are strong supporting roles for Altman favourite Shelley Duvall, Willliam Devane and a young Keith Carradine (his first movie role). Chicago movie expert Roger Ebert called the film ‘perfect.’ And I do respect what Ebert has to say.

La Julie won an Oscar for her role. Beattie has never been better and Altman, who always drifts his own way, said to the extras: “Dress how you like, do what you want, say what you want…I’ll just take it all in.”

So, dust off your cowboy boots, hang low under your Stetson and see a one-off western that is anything but a western.

By the way, despite thinking Murdoch is a toad, his Sky Movies Select channel has someone in the back office who really knows their stuff. On the same night the station is showing, besides the above movie, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Enough Said (James Gandolfini’s wry last film before he died) Grosse Point Blank with John Cusack and Dan Ackroyd and one other movie whose name escapes me but is pretty good too.


2 thoughts on “Screengrab: No heroes in Altman-land

  1. Not only is McCabe and Mrs Miller a great Altman film, there are so many by him….a unique American voice

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