PAINT YOUR WAGON
(director: Joshua Logan; screenwriters: Paddy Chayefsky/Alan Jay Lerner; cinematographer: William A. Fraker; editor: Robert C. Jones; music: Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe; cast: Lee Marvin (Ben Rumson), Clint Eastwood (Pardner), Jean Seberg (Elizabeth), Harve Presnell (Rotten Luck Willie), Ray Walston (Mad Jack Duncan), Tom Ligon (Horton Fenty); Runtime: 166; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Alan Jay Lerner; Paramount; 1969)
“The pic just collapses because there’s nothing going on that matters except to watch Marvin’s hammy performance.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The $20 million budgeted film is based on the hit 1951 Lerner-Loewe Broadway musical. It bombed at the box office and received mostly poor reviews. It’s adapted to the screen by Paddy Chayefsky and Alan Jay Lerner. Director Joshua Logan (“Sayonara”/”Bus Stop”/”Picnic”) keeps it genial, filled with music, slow paced and stuck with a weak script. Logan and Lerner have abandoned Lerner’s original Broadway book but kept the locale, a rustic mining camp in a place called No Name city. It’s set in the 1840s, during the height of the California gold rush, when women were scarce.
In a gimmicky move that backfired, the three lead actors—Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg—weren’t singers but were asked to sing. Of the three, Eastwood came off best, singing songs like “I Talk to the Trees.” Seberg was so bad, her voice had to be dubbed. Marvin turned “Wandering Star” into a surprise hit record in England. The film’s real singer, Broadway star Harve Presnell, sang the film’s biggest number, “They Call the Wind Maria,” which clearly showed up the stars as inferior singers.
During the California Gold Rush, heavy drinking prospector Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) while digging a grave for the victim of a covered wagon accident, discovers gold. Ben, in a gesture of good will, shares the claim with the dead man’s surviving brother, Pardner Clint Eastwood). Ben then establishes No Name City as a mining town. Desperate for female companionship, Ben purchases for $800 a Mormon’s spare wife, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg), whom he also shares with Pardner. Ben then diverts a coach of French prostitutes to No Name City, where they establish a brothel which keeps the sex starved miners happy.
No Name city develops from an amoral shanty town to respectability, but it must pay the price for its wickedness and falls biblical style to a disaster as a moral lesson. The town is destroyed by a raging bull, who butts the supports of tunnels. Rumson leaves for new adventures, while Elizabeth and Pardner stay to farm the land.
Eventually, in this overlong and strained film, the good bits transferred from the stage version lose their snap and the pic just collapses because there’s nothing going on that matters except to watch Marvin’s hammy performance.
The rest of the songs include the following: “I’m on My Way,” “I Still See Elisa,” “The First Thing You Know,” “Hand Me Down That Can o’ Beans,” “A Million Miles Away Behind the Door,” “There’s a Coach Comin’ In,” “Whoop-Ti-Ay!”, “The Gospel of No Name City,” “Best Things,” “Wand’rin Star,” “Gold Fever” and “I’m on My Way.”
REVIEWED ON 5/17/2009 GRADE: C+