PAINT YOUR WAGON was next on my Clint Eastwood list. Holy shit, you’re telling me Clint and Lee Marvin did a western together? How did I never see this one before?
The music on the credits is pretty corny, but I forgive it. Right off the bat you got Lee as a drunk old hustler in a top hat, he meets young Clint and declares him his partner. This is good shit.
Wait, what is Clint doing with that guitar? Hold on, is he crooning? Wait a– is this–
Holy shit, this is a musical!
Clint’s singing actually isn’t that bad. True, it makes him seem more Elvis in FLAMING STAR than Man With No Name. And more like the old singing cowboys than the man who sang the theme songs for ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN and GRAN TORINO. This makes him seem less gritty and more dreamy, singing about a lost love. But it’s fine. The trouble is when Lee Marvin starts singing. Not just that, but singing in character. And there are a couple musical numbers that aren’t even Clint or Lee, they’re just some of the supporting characters singing about how the town works, like they tend to do in musicals for exposition or for filler or something. The movie is 164 minutes so I think they could easily cut the songs out and still have a movie.
Most of the songs don’t matter to the plot anyway. There’s one that tells you that Lee is nomadic at heart, that helped. And there was a good chuckle when the preacher sang about how sinful the town was and everybody liked his song so much they cheered and held up their drinks at the end. But otherwise you wouldn’t miss much by cutting them. Maybe they were just put in there as placeholders, or as a joke for the gag reel, but then they forgot to take them out. Must’ve been embarrassing when they realized that at the premiere. Whoops.
Despite that editing error I must admit I really liked this movie. To be frankly honest I did know it was a musical, and that’s why I never watched it before. I was just trying to cross it off my list, I thought I’d watch it across a couple days and get it over with. Instead I found myself watching it in one sitting (songs and all, no fast forwarding, same as when I watched BROWN BUNNY) and I couldn’t believe how good it was.
(I wonder why BROWN BUNNY didn’t have an intermission like this one did?)
It’s not a serious western. More of a comedy, like CAT BALLOU. But it’s all about the friendship between Lee and Clint. Lee is a drunk asshole, he leaves big tabs for “Pardner” to pay, and gets in trouble with his stubbornness. But alot of times he’s right, too. Throughout their friendship they basically build and then destroy their own boomtown. So it’s kind of an epic.
It all starts when a Mormon rolls into town sporting two wives. This town is all men, and they’re lonely, so they demand this Mormon put one of his wives up for auction, out of fairness. He decides to sell off Jean Seberg, and Lee mistakenly wins the auction due to drunkenness. Talk about a fantasy – alot of alcoholics end up with shitloads of AAA batteries or black and white film or some shit like that that they don’t need and don’t remember buying. Rarely do they find out they got drunk and bought Jean Seberg. I mean, how many people do you know who have problems that good?
Well, the marriage goes okay after Lee agrees to build her a cabin. But since he’s got the only wife in town he starts getting paranoid, like if he parked a Lamborghini in a bad neighborhood. He thinks everybody’s trying to steal his woman. He gets crazy. He recognizes it’s a problem too, so he comes up with a plan: they’re gonna go kidnap some prostitutes from a stagecoach and use them to open up a brothel. Very simple – give the citizens open access to other vaginas and this takes the pressure off the one in his house.
But while he’s gone overseeing the great ho robbery he leaves Pardner to look after his wife, and of course they fall in love. I mean, what did he think was gonna happen, leaving his girl alone with Clint. He was gonna teach her to box? Of course she falls in love with Pardner, he’s a better singer than Lee, and he plays guitar. Ladies love that shit. So Pardner tries to do the honorable thing, admit his feelings and leave. But Lee figures if she’s in love with Pardner too then he doesn’t want to stay, he oughta cut his losses and be the one to leave. Then, after some discussion Seberg convinces them both to stay, and do a reverse Mormon marriage. They’re both her husbands.
Up until this point I was wondering what the deal was. You can’t get too much more heterosexual male than a western starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin trying to get themselves some wives. It would be hard to fit a car race in there. So how do you sell something like that as a musical, a medium with more of a female and gay male demographic? Well, by having it feature a woman who convinces Clint and Lee to be her bitches. And personally I think it makes them cooler that they were willing to go with that. They get even more “just don’t give a fuck” points for being co-husbands in this thing. I mean, they’re already Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, it’s a little late to question their masculinity.
I guess PAINT YOUR WAGON started as a stage musical, and director Joshua Logan was mainly a Broadway director. But the script was adapted by Paddy Chayefsky, the legendary writer best known for writing NETWORK and for being the guy that other writers are supposedly not as good as, as in “he’s no Paddy Chayefsky, but…”
But this one’s really witty, whoever wrote it is a Paddy Chayefsky. It’s a funny story propelled along by the charisma and loyalty of this friendship, and it leads to some great spectacle like the scene where the entire town is swallowed into the earth (because they built a tunnel under it to try to steal some gold – you know how these guys get) and Lee stumbles drunkenly through the saloon pouring himself drinks while everything collapses around him. Kind of reminds me of that great scene in Pirates of the Caribbean part 3 where the bad guy tries to walk off his ship as it’s exploding. But this is Lee Marvin so he’s not deluded. He pulls it off.
Yes, it’s true, I liked PAINT YOUR WAGON. the end
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.