Paint Your Wagon (1969)
This is one film I have been either putting off or just plain avoiding. The very idea of both Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood two heavy leading men in Westerns just put me right off for years. It took a “what the hell” moment to take the plunge what this comedy Western Musical, yes three genres for the price of one. I knew from past visual research the film had some connection with the gold-rush, a mass of wooden structures and tent across a river up and down on either side littered with figures. I didn’t really pay much attention to its source, just the content for the gold-mine I was researching in 2012. That’s where I come from when it came to Paint Your Wagon (1969) knowing it would be nothing like The Simpsons parody but quietly hoped it was. I think my sister and I have added another line “Gonna used turpentine, gotta keep those brushes clean” unless there’s another clip I can’t find.
OK so moving away from my thoughts going into the film before the release of the film there really wasn’t many gold digging films before 1969, looked at only briefly as only an aspect of frontier life. Not the setting for a whole film, just a passing location. Not as focused as The Spoilers (1942) which is just off the top of my head. Films usually centering around greed and power that the yellow metal can produce once found. We don’t really leave this once location for long. Instead we become immersed in this male dominated world, in a male dominated genre that sees women pushed to the sidelines. This very aspect of the genre’s poked and prodded for the first hour.
Taking a step back to having both Marvin and Eastwood in the same film which would be a dream come true if it was a straight Western it would be too much to handle. Instead I have to settle for a musical which if I’m honest has encouraged me to write a review and consider the genre in a different way once more. As much it is a chance for escapism and a sing along. I couldn’t imagine either two of these actors really singing or taking it seriously. I know that Marvin had a hit with Wand’rin’ Star not really wanting to believe that fact until I see it. As an audience we don’t really expect them to sing not perfect even before the days of auto-tune. Instead they do hit the notes but they aren’t blowing me away. Saying that, it doesn’t matter as this s out of the ordinary, much like Mama Mia (2008) we don’t want sopranos or trained professionals. They instead do the job fine and have fun doing it.
Thinking like that it means that, the film’s aimed at two audiences, with music for the music lovers and the actors for the rest, it’s a win-win situation. Added that you like Westerns you are getting an extra treat.
Going back to the themes of the film, a overally masculine film which knows it can stay that way, I wouldn’t call it modern though, thinking of progress in frontier terms. The male dominated gold mining town of No Name needs women to satisfy certain urges and needs that have been going without for so long. With the arrival of a Mormon and his two wives, one being the headstrong Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) who under the laws of the goldmine’s sold to the highest bidder – Ben Rumson (Marvin) who in turn shares with her with his mining partner Pardner (Eastwood). The morals of the day are mocked and trivialized. The power of religion’s mocked at the beginning, living by their own laws that work in a male dominated society under mining laws, all finds are filed and legal, It makes sense in the days before California was given statehood have to fend for themselves. I found Seberg’s involvement in the film odd at times, coming more from a world of French New Waves to a big-budget musical. Working off two actors who as big as the genre who work well opposite her. She’s no longer the free-loving girl of Breathless she has grown up.
As the film progresses the need for women increases as two men live with a similar arrangement to Mormon’s. The society adopt and adapt whatever ideas that make life easier for them and why not if everyone is happy. All this leads up to the boom-town that all gold-mines have become before they climax and collapse. With the kidnapping of French prostitutes times are indeed a-changing and for the better for a time. A town grows over night, gold is making this town come alive, more come to take advantage of the delights and sins that are within the mountains. Enter the Parson (Alan Dexter) whose mocked at every turn up the very end of the film. With the arrival of winter storm Elizabeth takes in a religious family who are innocent to the sins of this town. We see both Pardner and Elizabeth change overnight almost whilst boisterous and un-tamable Rumson who opens the eyes of the oldest to what can indulge himself, sins that make him a man of the frontier.
It’s a musical that mocks the genre at time when it had grown tired and for time it raises it up to become something bigger and magical. Songs that to me aren’t largely important. They move the film forward, mainly light and celebratory in tone. Based on folk songs of the period larger than life pieces that stop the film for five minutes as one character sings their heart out. They do uplift without a doubt with a heavy dose of humour which ensured I stayed the course of the film as it falls into farce meeting reality as the town collapsing and people begin to move on to the next boo town so the cycle would begin again.