Paint Your Wagon

9 ratings (8 Epinions reviews)
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The best stage-musical-western-dying-a-slow-death-on-screen (BBTM)

Jul 8, 2003 (Updated Jul 8, 2003)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Very Good

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Pros:cinematography, scenery, curiosity about Marvin & Eastwood singing

Cons:mostly boring with silly songs

The Bottom Line: Unless you're curious about Marvin and Eastwood bursting into song, avoid it.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie's plot.

I thought that a very late contribution to the "Bring Your Buddy to a Movie," organized by SurgRN911 & SusiDee34, should be about a good movie, besides which I very rarely watch anything I don't at least hope is going to be good. Despite its composite 5-star epinion rating before today, I was not expecting "Paint Your Wagon" to be good. A musical western with Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Jean Seberg? For that matter, a musical western? There are musicals I've liked (Band Wagon, Cabaret, Moulin Rouge), but I'd seen the lifeless movies director Joshua Logan made of what were hit stage musicals (South Pacific, Fanny, and Camelot) before "Paint Your Wagon" and I loathed the only other musical westerns adapted from the stage I can think of: all but one scene in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and all of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."

I was drawn to "Paint Your Wagon" as people are drawn to watching fires, car crashes, and (the generic term) train wrecks. It has been called "the musical 'Heaven's Gate'" for its cost overruns and commercial failure. Along with two other musicals that failed big time (On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Darling Lili), "Paint Your Wagon" almost bankrupted Paramount. The producer, director, and star were reportedly all far gone in various forms of substance abuse during the filming. And I doubt Paramount was banking on the musical talents of Marvin, Eastwood, and Seberg. (Of the three, Eastwood was the only one who could sing, but as my Buddy, Jiahong, noted, what Eastwood is given to sing is drivel.)

Presumably after seeing Lee Marvin's Oscar-winning portrayal of a drunk in "Cat Ballou," writer-producer Alan Jay Lerner wanted Marvin for the lead role of Ben Rumson. It was Lerner, not Hollywood executives, who decided to throw out the plot of the Lerner and Lowe stage hit musical and to substitute bigamy for inter-ethnic love as the central conflict of the movie. When she first arrives on foot in the mining camp No Name, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) is a hefty Mormon's second wife. Eventually, she advances to having two husbands, mining claim partners Marvin and Eastwood (the latter is called "Partner" through the first 23 hours of the movie).

If it weren't a musical or an attempt at a musical, the movie's plot isn't all that different from other movies about mining camps with the familiar greed, lust, free-spending on what there is to buy (liquor and prostitutes and gambling), the frustrations of a would-be minister and of "decent folk" with the general debauchery and the eventual triumph of respectability (about 22 and 1/2 hours into the movie). The farmers inherit a world that the colorful characters leave, riding off to new frontiers (if not always into sunsets; as in "Shane" Rumson seems to be going north when he leaves).

There are insipid songs and some big production numbers, all of which are dull. If I didn't remember the song "They Call the Wind Mariah," I don't think I would have noticed it, though it is sung by someone with musical experience (Harve Presnell, though some of his experience was as the male lead in the abysmal "Unsinkable Molly Brown"). It is overlaid with a fairly spectacular thunderstorm.

Amazingly, Lee Marvin got a gold record from the English success of a single release of "Wand'rin' Star." He was not in tune even for the 3-note range of the song, but at least its lyrics are in character. And not as totally idiotic as "Talk to the Trees," which Eastwood was stuck singing (with a creditable voice).

Marvin and Eastwood play well together and are fitfully amusing. Tom Ligon is also amusing as the horse Marvin leads to water (OK: Horton, the boy Marvin takes to the saloon). For "family entertainment," the movie is very salacious, centering on the horniness of men with no women around. It is far more vulgar than "South Pacific" (in which Ray Walston also leered and connived unleashed by Logan). There is no nudity, but much of the dialogue is sexual innuendo... and the rest is drunkenness portrayed as charming. I don't think that anyone would mistake me for being a puritan, and I have a high tolerance for "smuttiness," but I don't think that falling-down drunks are "cute." My experience is that drunks are vicious, not gooey sweethearts like Marvin's Rumson.

There is a fairly spectacular (and, of course, very protracted) destruction scene and the cinematography (by William A. Fraker) and scenic backdrop (Baker, Oregon) deserve positive mention, but I found the movie way, way, way too long, the music unimpressive and the movie as a whole vulgar and tepid. To say it is the best musical western movie is the faintest of praise for this historical curiosity. It is not that "Paint Your Wagon" is anywhere close to being good, but that the others are even worse.


The only DVD extra is a theatrical trailer, though this is one debacle that might make a very interesting "making of" documentary, and I'd like to hear from Eastwood about his experiences on it.

Why this is the movie that Jiahong was willing to write about and our very belated contribution to the write-off is explained in his review, which is at
I /we did have advance consent for late posting, though I didn't anticipate being this late, but no one invited me to dance, and I couldn't convince Jiahong to write about several movies we watched after returning from Iceland. Other duals or duels in the writeoff are

Angel Heart:
Artbyjude & Granniemose

Bruce Almighty
jeremy1456 & rock_on

Meet Joe Black:
Yourcloud & DrDevience

Oscar & Lucinda:
telynor & skbreese

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Psychovant & (supposedly/sometime) SoxFan

She Done Him Wrong:
jankp & tfrentz

Rosemary's Baby:
Ifif1938 & DrDevience

Sum Of Us:
SurgRN911 & SusiDee34

Usual Suspects:
Mimi369 & SusiDee34

Recommend this product? No

Viewing Format: DVD
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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