In the late 1960â€™s Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood were at the top of the heap based on the tough action movies and westerns they both had great success with. It seemed to be a no-brainer to put them in the same movie. So for their first (and only) film together what did they make?
A gritty, bloody western full of gunsmoke and dead bodies all over the place? No.
A suspenseful modern day urban crime thriller? No.
A stirringly glorious war epic with them heroically slaughtering Nazis by the hundreds? No.
They made a musical comedy set in the days of The California Gold Rush called PAINT YOUR WAGON.
Iâ€™ll be honest here: for years I avoided PAINT YOUR WAGON because I wanted to see Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood killing folks, kicking ass and busting heads, not trying their best to sing. But Turner Classic Movies provides a great opportunity for me to catch movies Iâ€™ve never seen so I said what the hell and sat down to watch PAINT YOUR WAGON. And surprise, surprise, surprise: after about a half hour I found I was liking the movie a lot and by the end I was satisfied that I had been thoroughly entertained.
Mountain man and gold prospector Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) crosses paths with a wagon train on itâ€™s way west. Thereâ€™s an accident where one wagon goes over a cliff and Ben rescues a young man from certain death but has to bury the manâ€™s brother. Itâ€™s while Ben and some of the men are saying a few words over the dead man that Ben spies gold in the grave. He promptly throws out the body and stakes the claim in the name of the young man he saved. The young man (Clint Eastwood) who Ben calls â€˜Partnerâ€™ all through the movie (he does have a real name but we donâ€™t find out what it is until literally the very end of the film) throws in with Ben and they prospect for gold together while a rough mining camp springs up around them.
Into the camp comes a Mormon with two wives in tow and heâ€™s persuaded to put up one of his wives, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) for auction. Through a bizarre set of circumstances Ben ends up with the wife and the relationship turns out to be nothing like what either one of them expected. Ben finds that he actually begins to care for the well being of Elizabeth and he builds her a fine log cabin some distance away from the mining camp. Which really isnâ€™t a camp anymore but has grown into No-Name City, a bustling pit of vice, sin, drunkenness, lawlessness and who knows what all else that actually looks like a lot of fun.
The situation gets even more complicated when Partner and Elizabeth fall in love while Ben is away hijacking a stagecoach full of French prostitutes on their way to another town and brings them to No-Name City instead. Now Ben and Partner each are willing to go away and let the other man have the woman but Elizabeth comes up with a novel solution: if a man can have two wives then why canâ€™t a woman have two husbands? The arraignment is satisfactory to all parties concerned until farming families come to No-Name City and Elizabeth develops a hankering for a more respectable way of life. In the meantime, Ben has found a new way of prospecting along with Partner and Mad Jack Duncan (Ray Walston). It involves digging an extensive and complex series of tunnels under No-Name City itself and collecting the gold dust that falls between the floorboards of the various buildings. Miners are so careless with their gold dust that soon Ben, Partner and Mad Jack are collecting more gold is this fashion than they ever did prospecting. The mining scheme takes up a good deal of the last 45 minutes of the movie and comes to an ending that made me laugh out loud at its total lunacy. And yes, the unique marriage arraignment between Ben, Elizabeth and Partner comes to a resolution as well before the final song.
Letâ€™s get the first thing out of the way; PAINT YOUR WAGON is nowhere near as bad as Iâ€™ve been told all these years. Matter of fact, itâ€™s a lot of goofy fun and that is thanks to Lee Marvin, who walks off with this movie from beginning to end. It has always amazed me that for an actor known mainly for his tough guy roles, the only Oscar Lee Marvin won was for a comedy; â€œCat Ballouâ€. But after watching PAINT YOUR WAGON Iâ€™m no longer surprised. The man actually was extremely gifted at comedy and 90% of the laughs in PAINT YOUR WAGON come from him. Lee Marvin had me hooked right at the beginning where heâ€™s delivering the eulogy for Partnerâ€™s dead brother. And thereâ€™s a bit he does at the end where heâ€™s walking away from the devastation of No-Name City that he caused. Thereâ€™s something about the way heâ€™s trying to pretend heâ€™s got nothing to do with whatâ€™s happening that cracked me up.
How about his singing you ask? Well, Lee Marvin doesnâ€™t actually sing. He does that Rex Harrison/Richard Harris style of singing where theyâ€™re more or less talking along with the music. But he pulls it off. And thereâ€™s a song near the end called â€œWandâ€™rinâ€™ Starâ€ that he actually does really well. Itâ€™s worth sitting through the movie waiting for that number.
Clint Eastwood is very laid back and likeable in this movie. His crooning isnâ€™t that bad, either. Itâ€™s certainly not anything memorable and his â€œGold Feverâ€ number is hideous but the other songs he does are okay. Jean Seberg is the acting disappointment in this movie. She comes off as a bland and uninteresting actress and the relationship between Ben and Partner are much more interesting than the relationship Elizabeth has with them. And her singing is atrocious. Actually the singing of whoever dubbed her is atrocious. If you decide to watch this movie, when they get to her big (and only) number â€œA Million Miles Away Behind The Doorâ€ feel free to head to the kitchen for snacks or to visit the rest room. You wonâ€™t be missing anything.
Probably the only song youâ€™ll recognize right away is â€œThey Call The Wind Mariaâ€ sung by Harve Presnell. I also liked â€œThe Gospel Of No-Name Cityâ€ and â€œHand Me Down That Can Of Beansâ€ and try your best to keep a straight face when Clint sings â€œI Talk To The Treesâ€ and donâ€™t listen too closely to the lyrics.
So should you see PAINT YOUR WAGON? I donâ€™t see why not. Itâ€™s nowhere near in the league of classic movie musicals, thatâ€™s for sure and itâ€™s the only musical I can think of where none of the leads can sing. But it does have that wonderfully loony Lee Marvin performance and I liked the way the story bounced from one goofy scene to the next without stopping to catch itâ€™s breath. Clint Eastwood and Ray Walston both look as if theyâ€™re having a good time and if you can stay awake through the scenes where Jean Seberg is on screen I think youâ€™ll have a good time as well.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 DLFerguson
Paint Your Wagon: Movie Review
Copyright © 2010 DLFerguson
About the WriterWant to write articles too? Sign up & become a writer!
0 comments on Paint Your Wagon: Movie Review
Rate This Article
Your vote matters to us