Paint Your Wagon

I’ve never understood the cloud of negativity surrounding Paint Your Wagon, a terminally eccentric, raucously bawdy musical western epic in which old school tough guys Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood get to sing, or at least do their best. Sure it’s a giant unwieldy spectacle, not all of the songs make a three point landing and it runs on far too long, but it’s such an interesting piece from many perspectives, it doesn’t deserve even half the shade thrown on it by critics over the years. I like it specifically because of how odd and random it is at times, how it meanders and lingers across the gold rush frontier town it takes place in, following the paths of it’s strange characters diligently. Marvin is the life of the party as Ben Rumson, a booze soaked, misanthropic prospector idling his way through the west in a haze of hangovers and hijinks. Eastwood is Pardner, a soft spoken stoic type whose life is saved by Ben, and the two strike a bond that’s eventually tested by Elizabeth (Jean Seberg), the beauty who loves them both. The trio makes the best of life in a rough n’ tumble settlement called No Name City, a feverish shantytown on the precipice of nowhere, populated by scoundrels, miscreants and hooligans. And that’s pretty much it, the story punctuated by a whole gallery of songs, some brilliant and others excruciating. The best is a haunting, melancholy melody by Marvin called ‘Wandering Star’, which is so good it could be listened to on repeat. ‘They Call The Wind Mariah’ is a gorgeous tune belted out by a young looking Harve Presnell as Rotten Luck Willie, a slick kingpin who basically runs the township. ‘There’s a Coach Comin In’ rouses spirits, and the titular theme is well staged too. Unfortunately all of the songs sung solely by Eastwood are a slog through the mud, as he bleats like a goat and gets saddled with the most boring tracks like ‘I Talk To The Trees’, the sappy ‘Elisa’ and ‘Gold Fever’, a musical sleeping pill. Whenever Marvin is around it’s a banger of a party, he goes the extra mile to keep the energy levels unbridled, while Eastwood is a little sleepier. There’s no way the film deserves the dodgy reputation it’s been slapped with though, a lot of it is fun as all hell, the big budget is spent well on fantastic production design, epic sets and big names who earn their keep, Marvin in particular.

-Nate Hill

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