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“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Subject: Mirrors and the Radio

“Midnight Cowboy” is one of the movies that strike both with their theatrical imagery and the harsh reality that shines through the drapes of the scene. The wistful impression that the movie leaves owes its impact to a significant extent to the masterful use of props, especially mirrors and the radio. The scene that shows Joe pawning his radio successfully incorporates both symbols, namely, the radio and mirrors, to create a hauntingly beautiful foreshadowing of the depressingly sad ending that is soon to come.

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In the scene where Joe pawns his radio, the initially lightweight and happy-go-lucky commercial jingle gains the tint of sadness and wistfulness as Joe has to give up his most, and only, prized possession. Namely, the use of the “Orange Juice on Ice” melody contrasts with a more sober tone of the rest of the scene (Hellman & Schlesinger, 1969). The scene in question signifies two critical changes in Joe’s behavior, namely, him abandoning his selfish ways, and the need to improve through compassion, compromise, and sacrifice. Thus, the scene sets the tone for the future more serious reflection on changes in Joe’s character.

Moreover, the scene involves a crucial use of the mirror, which passes momentarily yet leaves an underlying intuitive sense of vulnerability. As Joe and Enrico enter the pawnshop, they have to go through a glass door that reflects them slightly. At first glance, the specified choice of exterior might seem random and not worthy of close attention. However, on further scrutiny of the key visuals in the movie, one will realize that mirrors follow the lead character at crucial points of the plot development, which makes the specified choice anything but accidental. Namely, the mirror is expected to represent a critique of Joe’s vanity and self-centeredness. In turn, as with the radio symbolism, in the specified scene, where he has to part with his treasure, the obscure image in the front door mirrors indicates that he is ready to move away from his self-centeredness.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

Subject: Film’s Final Sequence

The ending to “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971) leaves the unsettling feeling of loss and despair that lies at the core of the emotional impact that the film produces. The emotional numbness of the protagonists, one of them being left to freeze in the snow, and the other being sedated in an opium den, creates the aftershock that makes the ending scene truly draining and devastating. However, while it is the final scene that sets the emotional tone of the movie’s resolution, the two parts that precede it provide a stunning visual narrative to increase the stakes and represent the final arch of the characters’ development.

The use of intercut line actions has been a fairly common movie technique, yet it serves a very particular purpose in “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” Namely, the two action scenes are juxtaposed to create a sense of urgency and elicit an emotional reaction in audiences. In addition, when placed alongside the duel between McCabe and his assassin, the scene of the townsfolk burning the chapel represents an important shift in the social tension. Namely, when considered in tandem, these two scenes indicate how the reality of the town and its very existence crumble down after the town’s main figure is chased. Painting a rather sad portrait of the community, the strength of which hinged on a single person and where the rest of the citizens were eager to accept the mob mentality immediately, the ending leaves the audiences devastated: “I feel sorry for ’em, I do!” (Altman & Foster, 1971).

The decision to interlock the two action scenes at the end of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” (1971) helped to cement the sense of social tensions within the town’s environment and allow the audience to connect with the protagonists. Whereas in other movies, two action scenes next to each other would have been too artificial and overly dramatic, they help to drive home an important point in “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.” As a result, the ending becomes even more poignant and meaningful.


Altman, R., & Foster, D. (1971). McCabe & Mrs. Miller [motion picture]. Burbank, VA: Warner Bros.

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Hellman, J., & Schlesinger, J. (1969). Midnight cowboy [motion picture]. Hollywood, CA: United Artists.

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"“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis." StudyCorgi, 31 Dec. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis." December 31, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis." December 31, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis." December 31, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“Midnight Cowboy” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” Films Analysis'. 31 December.

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