A Michigan farmer and a prospector form a partnership in the California gold country. Their adventures include buying and sharing a wife, hijacking a stage, kidnaping six prostitutes, and turning their mining camp into a boomtown. Along the way there is plenty of drinking, gambling, and singing. They even find time to do some creative gold mining.
Lee Marvin ... Ben Rumson
Clint Eastwood ... Pardner
Jean Seberg ... Elizabeth
Harve Presnell ... Rotten Luck Willie
Ray Walston ... Mad Jack Duncan
Tom Ligon ... Horton Fenty
Alan Dexter ... Parson
William O'Connell ... Horace Tabor
Benny Baker ... Haywood Holbrook (as Ben Baker)
Alan Baxter ... Mr. Fenty
Paula Trueman ... Mrs. Fenty
Robert Easton ... Atwell
Geoffrey Norman ... Foster
H.B. Haggerty ... Steve Bull
Terry Jenkins ... Joe Mooney
My friend sent me this movie wanting to know my comments on it, without telling me even a word of what it was about or what he thought of it. I went and checked out the entry on IMDB and was a touch confused why he was sending me a sort of musical half-western flick, being that neither of those categories would pop up at the top of either our lists.
Needless to say, something about this movie surprised me -- I fully enjoyed watching it ! Right from the start the characters were interesting and the scenes quite absurdly funny. Some of the singing was truly awful (in a funny way), and other songs were actually very toe-tappingly catchy.
There is a whole lot of physical humor in this movie, from the opening scene after they bury the guy, to the ending scenes with the bull. And holy crap the older man drinks a lot. I don't think I've ever seen a movie where a single character drinks so much hard alcohol ! Along with the numerous sexual jokes I certainly wouldn't recommend this movie for children.
As the movie came to a conclusion, I found myself attached to the main characters and wanting to see more of their adventures. The plot had a very natural progression. As silly and ridiculous as it certainly was, the plot made a strange sort of sense.
Is the movie great? No, but it is a good one. If it were great, it would not suffer from it's long running time. A wider audience would no doubt warm to a shorter version. More is the pity, too, because the movie has much to offer. The scenery is beautiful; the sets reconstructions are first rate. Listen to the lyrics of some of the songs ('Gold Fever' and 'The First Thing You Know' are two good examples) and you can appreciate the wordsmithing skill of Alan Jay Lerner. If you like a large all-male chorus, the film offers some of the best singing of that kind you are likely to hear. Listen especially during 'There's a Coach Coming In'.
I must confess a guilty admiration for characters who are unapologetically amoral and corrupt, at least as defined by 'respectable society'. I wouldn't necessarily want one for a neighbor or even a friend (well .. maybe), but they are fascinating on film or stage. If the film is a comedy, they can be hilarious and often steal the show. All you need is the right actor to fill the role. Paint Your Wagon offers one of the most uproariously amoral characters on film, brought to amazing life by Lee Marvin. He delivers Ben Rumson's imminently quotable home-spun philosophy of life with great relish and comedic timing. Can he sing? No. But then would a somewhat dissipated Gold Rush miner likely be a good singer? His non-singing actually fits.
The rest of the cast is good but not exceptional. Ray Walston is memorable as Mad Jack. I still find it hard to spot the actor I am used to behind the beard and accent. He also has some great lines. Harve Presnell is the only truly major-league singer in the cast and delivers the most memorable song. The remaining actors are adequate. Eastwood is good but replaceable. Jean Seaberg is not Meryl Streep but is certainly easy on the eyes. The townsfolk are solid.
An enjoyable movie, with Lee Marvin's performance worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately Paint Your Wagon came at a time when big budget musicals were going out of vogue. The expenses of this film nearly bankrupted Paramount and it was many years before the studio recouped its investment. Another big Broadway hit from the same era, Finian's Rainbow also came to the big screen a few years earlier and bombed at the box office.
Paint Your Wagon ran 289 performances for the 1951-1952 season on Broadway. Daring in its time, Paint Your Wagon had an interracial love theme. That was too tame for the newly liberated silver screen from the Code and here we have a woman, Jean Seberg, marrying two gold miners, Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. This might be the first story on screen about polyandry unless you count Noel Coward's Design for Living and that was a heavily censored version.
Listening to Lee Marvin it sounds like an eminently practical arrangement. Lee saves Clint Eastwood after a fall and nurses him back to health and he makes him a partner. Then he 'buys' at auction Jean Seberg who is the second wife of passing Mormon John Mitchum.
Since Clint's a partner in everything, sharing a wife seems a sensible arrangement. Lee's character Ben Rumson has some very interesting ideas on morality, especially morality out in the wilds. You'll have to see Paint Your Wagon to hear him explain his views.
Jean Seberg's voice is dubbed by Anita Gordon, but Eastwood and Marvin do their own numbers. For Marvin, he does it in the tradition of Rex Harrison and Richard Burton in those other Lerner and Loewe musicals and it comes off nicely. Clint Eastwood's many talents do not include singing however.
But as it turned out Paint Your Wagon needed all the help it could get at the box office. They could have cast a singer in Clint's part, but where was there on who could play the role, be the right age, and bring in the dollars. By 1969 there really was no such male singer in Hollywood. Probably in the fifties someone like Gordon MacRae or Howard Keel might have done it then.
The comedy is pretty raucous from Lee Marvin's original ideas on sex to the whole town caving in because of all the mine tunnels beneath. Paint Your Wagon holds up well and it's not as bad a film as has come down by reputation. It might be painful for Clint Eastwood fans to hear him sing though.
* Many extras in the film were "hippies" who just happened to be living in the woods near where the crew built the sets.
* The film went notoriously over budget and was a box office failure when originally released. This project reportedly inspired Clint Eastwood to have more control over film budgets and schedules by starting his own production company.
* Jean Seberg had her singing voice dubbed by Anita Gordon while Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin did their own singing. Lee Marvin's recording of the song "Wanderin' Star" went to number 1 on the British charts, which also earned him a Gold record. Although it was a musical, no choreographer was ever hired.
* This was the only film produced by Alan Jay Lerner.
* This film version bears little resemblance to the Broadway musical on which it is ostensibly based. After the success of several musicals in the 1960s, most notably The Sound of Music (1965), producers went looking for other projects to make, and Paint Your Wagon (1969) made the list. The original plot, about an inter-ethnic love story, was discarded as being too dated. The only elements retained from the original were the title, Gold Rush setting and about half of the songs.
* In the DVD version the 4'20'' intermission is kept in the film.
* The first attempt to film this property was by Louis B. Mayer and Jack Cummings in 1957. Planned as a Cinerama release with a screenplay by John Lee Mahin and new songs by Alan Jay Lerner and Arthur Schwartz, the project died with Louis B. Mayer. Gary Cooper was being sought to play Ben Rumson.
* Lesley Ann Warren and Sally Ann Howes turned down the role of Elizabeth. Kim Novak was also approached, and Diana Rigg was set to star as Elizabeth but was forced to withdraw due to illness.
* George Maharis was a close contender for the role of Pardner.
* Lee Marvin was all set to star in The Wild Bunch (1969), a project that he helped put together with stuntman Roy N. Sickner, when Paramount offered him $1 million plus to star in this picture.
* Diana Rigg was set to star as Elizabeth but was forced to withdraw due to illness.
* The play was produced on Broadway in 1951 and was one of the two properties Louis B. Mayer took with him after his ousting from MGM. Advancing age and the fact that Mayer had been so removed from actual film production for 30+ years rendered him unable to get it underway as a film.