Deadwood is one of my favorite television series of all time. The atmosphere, the characters, and the language sort of sucks me into an episode and forces me to watch subsequent episodes in order to figure out what happens, although I already know because I have watched the series a million times. When I first encountered this series it seemed as if came out of nowhere. I had seen nothing remotely like it anywhere on television or even in films. However as I watched it again and again and expanded my film watching, I began to see obvious connections and influences. One of what seems like a major influence is Robert Altman films. I do not know this for sure because it has been some time since I read any interviews with Milch or watched the special features, but it seems to be pretty obvious. Hell he even cast one of the major players in Altman’s earliest films, Keith Carradine as the first season’s titular character: Wild Bill Hickcock. But the influences go deeper than that. Altman has a way with ensembles, juggling smaller characters and plot lines with the same finesse as he does his more major characters. He also made several films that involved the west including McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Buffalo Bill and the Indians. (you could also see his films that are set in modern times as having western type themes). In fact you could easily put this film in one of Milch’s episode and it would nicely.I think that is why I liked this film so much.
McCabe is an enterprising man who wants to create a huge brothel and bar for this small mining town. Mrs. Miller is a whore who wants to own her own joint. She sees McCabe as an asset and strikes a deal with him. Mrs. Miller’s whore house ends up being more profitable than his bar, but that is the least of McCabe’s problems. He has a mining corporation on his back to sell his property to them. He refuses for what seems very shallow reasons. However these men are not ones you want to cross and he puts his life in danger.
Although Warren Beatty is great in this film, the stand out actor is Julie Christie. She plays a character that has been seen so many times before with a such a fresh turn. She is forceful, imaginative, broken and caring at the same time. It quite magical to see her embody this character with all of her complexities. Plus she has really bitching hair. Keith Carradine is in this film in a small role, but he shines as a pretty boy cowboy. He carries himself with such a swagger that it is quite endearing and the whores all fall in love with him. If you read into this film, he represents the hippie ideals and aesthetic and him getting gunned down is the disillusionment that hippies were beginning to feel at the time (1971). Again, I do not know if this is intentional, but you never know right?
The similarities between Deadwood and McCabe and Mrs. Miller is an easy entry into this film. While you are engaging with the story, you can also see the characters that would evolve into Swearengen’s handy men and bartenders, the similarities in the speech of the whores, and a million other small similarities. It should be a drinking game!