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Ultra HD : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 6th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1971

McCabe & Mrs. Miller - The Criterion Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

When I think about filmmakers who constantly challenged the American way of living, Robert Altman comes right to the forefront. His countercultural western McCabe & Mrs. Miller is among his best works, and Criterion has upgraded their previous Blu-ray to 4K Ultra HD to have the story of Pudgy McCabe sing in 2160p resolution. Although no new special features have been added to this release and the transfer lacks HDR (more on that later), this release comes Recommended because it’s truly the best the film has ever looked. A lesser film may not earn that score, but this is a towering work that I’ll take in any 4K presentation I can get.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4K UHD + BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p/HEVC
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.40:1
Audio Formats:
English uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Subtitles/Captions:
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Release Date:
February 6th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

He was just some joker looking for a manger. Leonard Cohen croons over this deeply sad, deeply funny anti-western that I love so dearly. Everything about Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller feels kismet in the world it creates. A world full of losers trying to get by and struggling to connect with each other. The fact that it was produced in Canada during the Vietnam War and much of the crew consisted of those who fled the US because of the war, the film feels intrinsically connected to the frontier violence it depicts. And of course, that’s just one layer to this rambling, soulful work. 

McCabe & Mrs. Miller opens on a remote boomtown in Washington during the dawn of the 1900s. John “Pudgy” McCabe (Warren Beatty) rides into town to set up a whorehouse and soon finds himself subject to the rumors of him being a violent gunman. McCabe is forced to bolster that rumor to gain acceptance in town, then the headstrong British madam by the name of Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives, immediately calls him on his bullshit and conscripts herself to run the brothel for McCabe. As the town becomes richer and richer, the Bearpaw Mining Company looks to buy up the brothel. Will McCabe defend what he’s built, or is the legend about him wrong?

When I think about depictions of masculinity in westerns, I immediately think of McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Pudgy McCabe presents himself to be this stolid, rigid individual, but Constance calls him on his bullshit immediately. In a world where word is all that gets around, McCabe has the perfect cover since a rumor pervades about him being a gunfighter. The entire film is about him struggling to live up to that classic masculine image of a western man, but he’s also surrounded by a ton of people concerned with their own image. The bar conversations of men often involve discussion of how they look, in particular there’s a funny exchange where a man asks for validation for how great his mustache looks, but his talking counterpart rebuffs him in a really funny, understated way. Everyone in this town is looking for approval. It’s how America has always been.

Dear god, the texture of this film only adds to the earthiness that Altman achieves in his vision. To him, the true beauty of nature meeting humanity is this lush, grain-filled experience. It’s one unlike few other films, and only lends more power to the brown, worn, naturally lit look of the production. Filmmaking par excellence, which is unsurprising coming from a master like Altman. Where some westerns get high off of exaggerated gunfights, McCabe & Mrs. Miller wants you to just live with its characters for a bit. Whatever happens is up to fate, really.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
McCabe & Mrs. Miller comes to 4K Ultra HD with a two-disc – UHD100 for the 4K and BD50 for the Blu-ray – set that comes housed in Criterion’s standard scanavo packaging. A fold-out booklet essay is included in the case and is identical to the one included in Criterion’s 2016 Blu-ray release of the film. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio and explore bonus features.

Video Review

Ranking:

The Criterion Collection has upgraded McCabe & Mrs. Miller to 4K Ultra HD with an HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation sourced from the same 4K restoration they used on their own 2016 Blu-ray release of the film. The restoration was a stunner then and it continues to look terrific here, even despite the lack of HDR. Why no HDR? Well, it could very well be something written into Robert Altman’s estate, as the filmmaker often made films in a very unconventional way. This film, in particular, was shot on 35mm but then subjected to flashing, which results in an underexposed, lower-contrast image. That there is the reason why I don’t think HDR would work well for this film, one absolutely swimming in grain and texture from the production design. Altman wanted the film to have a weathered look, thus closer details that HDR would enhance probably wouldn’t match the filmmaker’s intent. 

All that said, this new 2160p SDR presentation is truly the best the film has ever looked at home. I was very curious how much of an upgrade this would be over the 2016 release, and I’m quite happy with how it turned out. All that noise baked into the negative is much, much better resolved in 2160p than 1080p. While the transfer itself is only in the BT.709 color space, this is a very brown film that gains some added depth in its primaries with higher resolution. Black levels are improved and it’s clear that many of the subtleties in the shadow work here would be easily blown out by HDR. The beautifully aged appearance of the film has been retained wonderfully. As someone who has seen the film on 35mm, I can confidently state this transfer is very close to how theatrical prints were color timed. If you’re a fan of the film already, this is more than worth the upgrade for the transfer alone.

Audio Review

Ranking:

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is presented with the same English LPCM 1.0 mono track that was on the 2016 Blu-ray release, though that’s fine since that track was already terrific to begin with. Altman’s “everyone talking over each other” approach to sound design in some of the interiors can be overwhelming, yet it’s all resolved incredibly well here. Even when there’s quite big fluctuations in dialogue noise, like the scene of the prostitutes bathing each other, the track presents it all well with no hiss or pop to note. Source seems to be in terrific condition. 

Special Features

Ranking:

Criterion ports over all the supplements from the 2016 Blu-ray release, so you have the terrific commentary with Altman, plus the really nice making-of documentary including interviews with cast and crew from that previous release. While I’m a bit disappointed that Criterion couldn’t dig up anything new for this upgrade, the supplements package is still great from the previous release.

4K UHD Disc 

  • Audio commentary with Robert Altman and producer David Foster

Blur-ray Disc

  • Audio commentary with Robert Altman and producer David Foster
  • Making-of documentary (HD 54:38)
  • Conversation between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell (HD 36:27)
  • Featurette from the film’s 1970 production (SD 9:32)
  • Art Director’s Guild Society Q&A (SD 37:36)
  • Excerpts from archival interviews with Vilmos Zsigmond (SD 11:30)
  • Still gallery 
  • Excerpts from two 1971 episodes of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Altman (SD 11:49)
    • and film critic Pauline Kael (SD 10:34)
  • Trailer (HD 1:58)

Final Thoughts

The American frontier gets demystified with humor and affecting warmth with McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s classic 1971 revisionist western. The Criterion Collection upgrades their 2016 Blu-ray release to 4K Ultra HD with a stellar new 2160p presentation of the film. While no new special features have been added, I can confidently say that this Recommended release offers the best this film has ever look at home. 

Order Your Copy of McCabe & Mrs. Miller on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray