Warren Beatty’s performance as outlaw Clyde Barrow in Arthur Penn’s ground breaking Bonnie and Clyde (1967) announced a new kind of American hero: the outlaw. Here was glamour and evident star quality portraying someone outside the law as the film’s sympathetic character.
Beatty continued this moral ambiguity most strikingly as the gambler/businessman McCabe who sets up a ‘superior kind of whorehouse experience’ with equally morally ambiguous Mrs Miller (played with luminescent intelligence by Julie Christie) in Robert Altman’s anti-western McCabe and Mrs Miller.
Altman himself was an assertive Hollywood outsider who had struck commercial gold with his subversive anti-war comedy M.A.S.H. This success gave him the creative space to make his next film, which not only reframed the entrenched values of the Western genre but redefined a visual style thanks to the talent of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, where the viewer has to play an active part in making the film’s meaning rather than being a passive recipient.