Paint Your Wagon Reviews
First, this is an exceedingly ugly film. The tone straddles somewhere between slapstick camp tongue-biting satire, but you wouldn't know that looking at the dreary sets caked in gray-black muck and sapped of all warmth as if a dementor leaned in and kissed all life out of the production design. Blame the iron fist control of writer (yes, writer) Alan Jay Lerner, who essentially seized control of the picture from day one, demanding (among other things) that the movie needed to shoot on location in the middle of nowhere Oregon literally a forty-five mile dirt road trek from the nearest hotel. $20 million was a lot of money back in the day, and a majority of that budget went to building and maintaining these soul-sucking sets as far away from the reach of man as the filmmakers could muster, while flying in Mr. Eastwood via chopper every morning. But I digress. Paramount threw a bunch of money down the drain here.
Then there's the questionable, ad hoc decision to make this a musical. Yes, it was based on Lerner and Loewe's Broadway play of the same name (also a notorious flop), but the songs seem out of place and none are particularly noteworthy except in how mind-numbingly bad they are. If you want a good laugh, watch Lee Marvin mumble-growl his way through "Wandering Star" or the only decent singer belt out his pet names for the wind and rain like anyone asked him.
Finally, the story itself is a bit of a headscratcher. Prospectors in 1849 California sing their way through the construction of a gold rush town while kidnapping and fighting over women like toilet paper in a post-apocalypse (except with severe rape overtones). Meanwhile Marvin and Eastwood enter into a ménage à trois marriage with a woman they bought (Jean Seberg) and she falls for both of them (Stockholm syndrome much?). To cap it all off, our heroes dig under the town to collect the gold shavings that fall through the floorboards. To what end? I really couldn't tell you.
It's hard to know who this movie was made for. It has all the trappings of a quick, ill-advised cash grab in the wake of West Side Story and The Sound of Music. At the same time though, it feels like too many hands tried to pull it in creatively dissonant directions. Having read Paint Your Wagon's "making of" story in James Robert Parish's "Fiasco," most of the blame seems to lay Lerner's back. Being a control freak, he stepped on so many toes that the creative direction of the film spiraled out of control. That's not to say that it would have been better with his noninterference, but if he'd stayed at the sidelines, he wouldn't have been such an easy scapegoat.
And finally, this movie commits the biggest cardinal sin in my book. It's boring. Wrechedly, paint-dryingly, grass-growingly, cobweb-collectingly boring. You're better off watching ten hours of Nicolas Cage freaking out on YouTube. Okay, maybe nine. It isn't THAT bad. 3.7/10
Watch just to see lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood sing!
Clint Eastwood is a pacifist. Lee Marvin is a bawdy rough gold miner with strong loyalties.
Clint doesn't give his alleged movie name till the end; until then he is known as 'Partner', in various pronunciations.
Ray Walston is a hoot as Mad Jack, an Irish gold miner.
Clint, Lee and Ray all sing and actually do well. None of them are operatic voices but they do entertain.
Harve Presnell, as Hard Luck Willie, sings a wonderful version of 'They call the Wind Maria'
All in all it is a great, though very unusual, musical. Stick through the slow and enjoy the humor.
I first knew of this Broadway musical from covers done by (of all people) The Smothers Brothers. "They Call the Wind Maria" & "I talk to the Trees". I have no doubt that the stage version was much better.
While Marvin had proven his comedy chops (as Eastwood would in later years), neither has ever been known for their musical talent. I can't really add "for good reason" since Eastwood has since become known as a decent jazz pianist & aficionado. A shame that "The Pardner" didn't play pie-aney instead of the guitar. Suffice it to say that in 1969 singing should have been at the bottom of their list of talents. Harve Presnell's fabulous ability to carry a tune almost seems out of place until we remember his character's talents within the film. However since this film is about mountain men & an untamed wilderness, their untrained vocal talents seem to fit - & this film is worth watching.
Pay attention to excellent performances by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ray Walston, & Benny Baker - who reminds me of a guy I used to work with.
This film has some clever moments. For instance, the number, "There's a Coach Coming In," essentially a kind of founding of Rome moment when Ben Rumson and others steal a stagecoach of French prostitutes, fixes the problem of representing the history of sexual labor in the overwhelmingly male mining camps of the California gold rush. Teaching the reality of this historical moment in the mining camps can be difficult as it demands from students a fundamental paradigm shift and a disinterested interest in both prostitution as a job and gendered, domestic labor as a lucrative money maker and rare luxury. The film uses the number in a way not unlike what Richard Dyer describes, to dissolve our interest in the not-so-unsavory yet nonetheless unsavory reality of 19th century sexual labor and put us into the shoes of a bunch of sex-starved, westering dudes: utopia can sometimes look like prostitutes. In this scene, the economic stakes of prostitution are shown in competition, and the wild but bridled stallions of unbridled horniness at the head of the cavalcade knock down a perfume vendor who sees the women as new consumers in the fledgling economy of the muddy little mining town.
Of course this isn't the best film. However, it is still a pretty good film.