Filmsite Movie Review
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Dispatched to the town were three hired enforcers to scout out McCabe. The most ominous was an arch-villain - a handle-bar mustached, Scottish-accented bounty hunter named Jake "Dog" Butler (Hugh Millais), a seven-foot tall giant Englishman who was carrying a single-shot elephant gun ("blunderbuss") and wore a goatskin coat. His two sidekicks were a young, skittish blonde teenager known as Kid (Manfred Schulz), and a caped, silent, long-haired half-breed with a rifle, simply named Breed (Jace Vander Veen).

While McCabe was playing cards in the saloon, Mrs. Miller interrupted and advised McCabe to go "down the mountain" and investigate some rumors of another booming business opportunity "around the fort." She implored and reprimanded: "I'm your partner. You gotta listen to me." McCabe was distracted and fixated on more deal-making with the three Harrison Shaughnessy riders who were presently speaking to Smalley. Mrs. Miller was realistic and skeptical: "What if they don't make a deal?" The naive McCabe ignored her pleadings and concerns due to his own big-headed confidence that he could fix everything and find success:

They the ones that got to make a deal, not me. I feel sorry for 'em. Them old guffers been workin' this company twenty years, they don't know what to do, and the company says: 'Get on up there and make a deal with McCabe and don't come back till you done it.' And hell, when they come upside a mule like me, I feel sorry for 'em, to tell you the truth. I do. I really do. I feel sorry for 'em. I know what I'm doin'. I know what I'm doin'.

To his dismay, Smalley reported back: "They said there was nothin' to talk about," and the trio were planning to eat at Sheehan's. Mrs. Miller knew about the Company's deadly mission and hoped to convince McCabe one last time to capitulate: "Listen, they'd make a deal if he wanted to. They get paid for killin', nothin' else!"

McCabe found the gregarious, hulking, fur-clad Dog Butler not wanting to pause as he lectured and mesmerized onlookers in Sheehan's saloon - he was recommending profitable zinc mining prospecting using exploited, cheap (and disposable) pig-tailed Chinese labor:

Up in Canada right now, they're blasting tunnel under $10 a foot, all done with a pigtail. They got some new explosives up there. Fantastic stuff. They give it to Johnny Chinaman, send him in. Down comes 45, 50 tons of rock, and one dead Chinaman. And you, sir. Do you know what the fine is for killing a Chinaman? $50, maximum. The inspector's working for the company. Four times out of five, it's an accident. You could do this right here with your own zinc. All you gotta do is to give the bugger a box of this stuff, put him down the hole, up to the rock face, and there's your zinc - 65 cents a ton.

The two then talked over the recent negotiations with Hollander and Sears. McCabe quickly humbled himself and backed down as Butler listened with empathic steely silence. Ingratiating himself, McCabe bargained himself down from his strident five-figure demands of the previous evening - even admitting the two parties "weren't far apart" - and that he had now lowered his price down to the almost the same level of the original offer: "Well, let's just make that an even $6,500 dollars, and you've got yourself a deal." But Butler was in no position to deal: "I don't make deals." He claimed he was only there to hunt bear. [Note: Butler was there to hunt bear - and McCabe had a bear-skin overcoat.] Off to the side, Sheehan smirked and smugly gloated that the belittling McCabe had finally received his come-uppance. He took malicious pleasure about how he had survived and more wisely accepted a profitable deal of $1,600 dollars for his own enterprises, while McCabe's fate was being sealed before his eyes.

Deflated and humiliated, McCabe nervously asked: "You don't work for Harrison Shaughnessy?" Butler calmy but threateningly answered: "Sometimes - only when they can't make a deal." Before they parted ways, Butler asked about McCabe's rumored shady past, prompting McCabe to keep up his pretense of a deadly association with Bill Roundtree:

Butler: Were you ever called 'Pudgy'?
McCabe: A long time ago. Why?
Butler: My best friend's best friend was Bill Roundtree. Did you kill him?
McCabe: I was in a poker game when he got shot, but uh, I didn't kill him...Bill Roundtree got caught markin' the queens. He went for his gun and he got shot. That's all.

However, after McCabe was ordered away and he slumped off wearing his bearskin coat (and pointed out sheepishly that he was unarmed), Sheehan restated the empowering rumor about McCabe being the lethal gunslinger. Butler was extremely doubtful and laughed off the assertion - noting that McCabe was just a phony: "That man never killed anybody."

Now, McCabe was in a panic mode - and chattered to himself in self-pity and regretfulness:

All the time, makin' me feel like I'm gonna make a fool out of myself. Now, we're gonna see who the fools is. Son of a bitches. I never did fit in this goddamn town.

Frustrated with his life, he anxiously rehearsed a conversation in front of a mirror with his distant partner Mrs. Miller and himself, while gearing up for another journey. It was one of the film's most memorable monologues. He expressed his jealousy about her suitors, but also complained about her insensitivity to him and her determination to overrule him. Becoming romantic, he then asserted: "I got poetry in me" - but admitted that he felt inferior to her because he wasn't educated and couldn't write. He justified his inept ignorance, self-destructiveness, lack of true love with her, bad luck, and capitalistic business failure by confessing to his own limitations. However, he ended up by admonishing her ("just go ahead and have a time"), and devaluing her worth as only a lowly whore:

God, I hate when them bastards put their hands on ya. I tell ya, sometimes, sometimes when I'm takin' a look at ya, I-I just keep lookin' and a-lookin'. I want to feel your little body up against me so bad, I think I'm gonna bust. And I keep tryin' to tell ya in a lot of different ways. If, just one time, you could be sweet without no money around. I think I could. Well, I'll tell ya somethin', I got poetry in me. I do. I got poetry in me, but I ain't gonna put it down on paper. I ain't no educated man. I got sense enough not to try it. Can't never say nothin' to you. If you just one time let me run the show, I'd - you're just freezin' my soul, that's what you're doin'. Freezin' my soul. Well, s--t, enjoy yourself, girl. Just go ahead and have a time, what the hell. It's just my luck. Only woman's that's ever been one to me ain't nothin' but a whore. But what the hell, I never was a percentage man. I suppose a whore's only kind of woman I'd know.

With one last ditch effort, wearing a rainslicker, McCabe rode to Bearpaw and inquired about the whereabouts of Sears and Hollander at the Wharf Offices of the Harrison Shaughnessy Mining Company, but was told that he was too late - they had already left. He then trudged across the muddy street, and entered the upstairs office of idealistic lawyer Clement Samuels (William Devane), who dispensed essentially futile political and legal advice. He identified himself as a populist-leaning US Senate political candidate for the state of Washington, who would denounce "trusts and monopolies" while defending the little guy with modest business dreams. He postulated that small-time entrepreneur McCabe might be allied with William Jennings Bryan, have dinner with him, and receive praise in romanticized Washington Post headlines: “McCabe Strikes A Blow For The Little Guy.” But he also implied that McCabe might indeed be murdered by disguised representatives of the corrupt system, because he was no more powerful against the capitalists than a lowly Chinaman:

The law is here to protect the little guy like yourself, McCabe. And I'm at your service, free of charge...That's what I said. You don't have to pay me anything. It would be an honor for the next senator from the state of Washington to be your servant before the scales of justice...When a man, McCabe, when a man goes into the wilderness and with his bare hands, gives birth to a small enterprise, nourishes it, and tends it while it grows, well, I'm here to tell you no dirty sons of bitches are gonna take it away from him. Now, ain't that right?

Now, you take that there company, Harrison Shaughnessy. They have stockholders. Now, do you think they want their stockholders and the public thinkin' that their management isn't imbued with all the principles of fair play and justice - the very values that make this country what it is today?...Bustin' up these trusts and monopolies is at the very root of the problem of creating a just society.

Damn it, McCabe, I'm here to tell you that this free enterprise system of ours works. And working within it, we can protect the small businessman, and the big businessman as well...

Until people stop dyin' for freedom, they ain't gonna be free. I can see it now on the front page of The Washington Post, right next to a picture of William Jennings Bryan: McCabe Strikes a Blow for the Little Guy.... You're gonna become a famous man, McCabe. We could find ourselves havin' dinner with William Jennings Bryan...You're gonna be a hero!... You're gonna stare 'em down and make them quake in their boots...We don't need the Marshal. We're gonna do this through the courts... They won't be able to lift one little finger against you.

Throughout the one-sided discussion, all McCabe could say was: "I just didn't, uh, didn't want to get killed" and that he wanted to summon the Marshal for personal protection.

Upon his return to Mrs. Miller, the pathetic McCabe made another attempt to restore his masculine power: "Comes a time in every man's life, Constance, when he's just got to stick his hand in the fire, and, uh, and uh, see what he's made out of." She was incredulous and annoyed about his misguided and tough assertion: "What are you talkin' about?" To answer her, he mimicked or parroted the lawyer's principled words, and justified his heroic wager to the corporate interests as a 'manly' challenge:

I'm talkin' about bustin' up these trusts and monopolies, that's what I'm talkin' about. Somebody's got to protect the small businessman from these big companies, and I'm gonna be the man. Constance, just 'cause we ain't never talked about it don't mean I ain't got, uh, certain principles. I know it don't mean nothin' to you, but I got a reputation in this town.

She countered him, knowing that his pathway was only self-destructive - she would rather sell out and move on to more civilized locales than Presbyterian Church: "Just sell out and go some place where people are civilized. (tearfully sobbing)... They'll get you, McCabe, and they'll do somethin' awful to you." He was struck that she had some heartfelt concern for him ("Now, now little lady, ain't nothin' gonna happen to me"), but then she turned coldly business-like and desperate to find a way out. She sensed that their business was already doomed - he was set in his ways, would no longer listen to her, and had ostensibly broken up their partnership:

Don't you give me any of that 'little lady' s--t. I don't care about you! Give me my $1,500 dollars. I want to make a deal. And if you're not gonna make a deal with 'em, then I'll make a deal with 'em.

She was cooking during their discussion, and served McCabe his final domestic meal. He had the final word: "You can't make no deal."

After the amiable Cowboy bid gushing goodbyes to all of the prostitutes (including Ida), he was walking down the rickety suspension rope-bridge to buy some new socks in Sheehan's. Midway, he became trapped after crossing paths with the trigger-happy, novice gunslinging Kid, who was target-practicing with a whiskey keg on an icy surface. The confrontation turned accusatory and more deadly when the Kid taunted the Cowboy, calling him a "saddle tramp" and an "egg-sucker." The Kid failed to provoke any significant action from the friendly, self-deprecating hick Cowboy, who ingratiated himself about his skill with his holstered Colt revolver ("I just can't shoot good"). He also refused to remove his boots to show off the holes in his socks. But when he was finally convinced to innocently draw his gun to see if it was faulty, the Kid shot him to death, in cold-blood. It would be ruled a case of justifiable self-defense and homicide. The luckless Cowboy, who prophetically failed in his negotiations with his killer, was blasted off the rope bridge and plunged into the icy creek water below. Onlookers reacted impassively to the violent and senseless shoot-out.

Back in Mrs. Miller's boudoir, McCabe tearfully and apologetically acknowledged his true love and feelings for her:

You're the best lookin' woman I ever saw. And I ain't never tried to do nothin' but put a smile on your face. I ain't no good at sayin' I'm sorry. I, uh, I don't know what it is. I guess I ain't never been this close to nobody before.

She calmly urged before caressing his head gently: "Why don't you get under the covers, huh?...You don't need to say nothin'...Hey, come on."

At the start of the final, almost wordless celebrated confrontational sequence, McCabe awoke early to the sound of the wind howling on a blustery, bitterly-cold snowy day - ready to face the ugly consequences of his actions. [Note: The final scene was a reworking of the conclusion of High Noon (1952).] The trio of gunslingers, the Kid, Breed, and "Dog" Butler were ominously assembled at the other edge of town, ready to begin a long and tense (almost ludicrous) cat-and-mouse (or hide-and-seek) stalking sequence from end to end in the deserted town. McCabe used his familiarity with the town to his advantage to engage in an anticipatory counter-attack against his adversaries. With a rifle in his hand, he first sought refuge and safe haven inside the unfinished church, believing it was a place to hide from the assassins who had begun to search for him. He found the interior cluttered with tools and construction materials. To get a higher vantage point, he climbed up a ladder to the steeple tower to scope out the killers (who were seen splitting up in three different directions to provide him with a one-on-one advantage). Carelessly, however, he left his long rifle at the foot of the tower's ladder.

When he descended, he discovered that his shotgun had been appropriated by the church's self-appointed preacher, Mr. Elliott, who coldly and forcefully evicted McCabe out of the church at gunpoint: "This is a house of God...Get out!" - even though McCabe explained his dire predicament and politely asked for his gun's return. Mistaking the armed Elliott for his quarry McCabe, Butler blasted the minister with his elephant-gun. A dropped lantern from Elliott's hands spilled oil and ignited a disastrous fire that soon brought townsfolk out of their dwellings to try and save the building. McCabe fled to his own House of Fortune establishment, where to fortify himself, he cracked a raw egg into a whiskey glass and chugged down the concoction. While Breed searched in the Chinese ghetto quarters for him, McCabe acquired another gun before cowardly running from one hiding place to the next between buildings, and lurching through various snow banks.

He outsmarted the punkish gunfighter Kid, the first to locate him in an outlying shop, by shooting him in the back (the Kid tumbled into a large barrel or vat of water and died), but McCabe was wounded by two of the Kid's bullets - he was shot in the right upper thigh and abdomen. He heard the first frenzied cries of "Fire! The church is on fire!" from resident Andy (Harry Frazier) who rushed to alert Sheehan and others. The laborious steam tractor was started up, and a bucket brigade was hastily assembled to collect snow and water - to be used as an extinguisher. Even the brothel whores quickly dressed and joined the other fire-fighters. As McCabe desperately struggled to survive, frantic shouts and cries were heard from the townsfolk who were preoccupied elsewhere throughout the entire sequence.

Inside another hiding place, McCabe realized he was seriously injured, and also outnumbered and weakened. After hearing Breed's footsteps outside, McCabe propped his gun on a ledge to steady it and shot the second killer through the window of the store's door. McCabe's POV followed a few of the bounty hunter's bloody imprints in the snow, leading to his target's body face-down in a snow bank.

As McCabe steeled himself for his last, more savage opponent Butler, he saw a dark pony trot by him in the snow - a foreshadowing. Butler noticed McCabe staggering and limping up a steep snow embankment with great difficulty. Butler took aim and shot McCabe in the back with his powerful, long-barreled elephant gun. McCabe outwitted and tricked him by playing dead and laying on his back in the snow. He then killed the giant killer at point-blank range with a shot to the forehead when Butler approached closer. His weapon of choice was his hidden derringer - the one allegedly used to shoot Bill Roundtree.

But McCabe had also been mortally-wounded during the climactic standoff and final showdown in the bitter cold. He was ritually sacrificed, and tragically bled to death unnoticed, forgotten and alone in deep falling and blowing snow as he staggered to get indoors. His face and eyes were streaked, covered and caked with snow and ice crystals. McCabe succumbed in a crouched position, alone, frozen and enveloped in several feet of snow [Note: a similar scene occurred in the conclusion of The Shining (1980) as homage - Jack's frozen body in a maze] - a victim of corporate interests.

[Note It was tragically ironic that the jubilant townsfolk, who had joined forces, had successfully put out the fire and were joyously celebrating. But they had ignored the well-being of the man who had provided for the town's very livelihood and existence and built up a real community.]

When he died, McCabe and Constance were inextricably linked, mutually prostrate, silenced and powerless. She had opted to visit the Chinese section of town rather than watch McCabe fatefully die. She was oblivious and blankly quiet as she laid on her side and had drifted off into a drug-deluded state while fondling a marble egg in her hand (recalling McCabe's favorite cocktail of whiskey and a raw egg). Jaded, she succumbed to her addiction to her opium - smoking a pipe, and escaping into a permanent dream world. There was a final, slow-moving zoom close-up entering into the blackness of her 'dead' staring eye.

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