- Paint Your Wagon (film)
Paint Your Wagon
Original film poster
Directed by Joshua Logan Produced by Alan Jay Lerner Written by Alan Jay Lerner
Paddy Chayefsky (adaptation)
Starring Lee Marvin
Music by Lerner and Loewe
Andre Previn (additional song composer)
Editing by Robert C. Jones Studio The Malpaso Company Distributed by Paramount Pictures Release date(s) October 15, 1969 Running time 164 minutes Country United States Language English Budget $20 million
Paint Your Wagon is a 1969 American musical film starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. The movie was adapted by Paddy Chayefsky from the 1951 stage musical by Lerner and Loewe, set in a mining camp in Gold Rush-era California.
A wagon crashes into a ravine. Prospector Ben Rumson finds two adult male occupants, brothers, one of whom is dead and the other of whom has a broken arm and leg. As the first man is about to be buried, gold dust is discovered at the graveside. Ben stakes a claim on the land and adopts the surviving brother as his "Pardner" while he recuperates. Pardner, is portrayed as initially innocent and romantic, illustrated by him singing a pining love song about a girl named Elisa ("I Still See Elisa"), who he later sheepishly confesses exists only in his imagination. Pardner is originally a farmer who hopes to make enough in the gold rush to buy some land, and is openly suspicious of the drunken and seemingly amoral Ben. Ben claims that while he is willing to fight, steal, and cheat at cards, his system of ethics does not allow him to betray a partner, and that he will share the spoils of Ben's prospecting on the condition that Pardner takes care of Ben in his moments of drunkenness and melancholy.
After the discovery of gold at the grave site, "No Name City" springs up as a tent city with the miners alternating between wild parties ("Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans") and bouts of melancholy ("They Call the Wind Maria"). The men become increasingly frustrated with the lack of female companionship in the mining town, and the arrival of a Mormon, Jacob Woodling, with two wives is enough to catch the attention of the entire town. The miners claim it is unfair for the Mormon to have two wives when they have no women, and persuade him to sell one of his wives to the highest bidder. Elizabeth, Jacob's younger and more rebellious wife, agrees to be sold based on the reasoning that whatever she gets, it can't be as bad as what she currently has.
A drunken Ben winds up with the highest bid for Elizabeth. Ben is readied for the wedding by the other miners ("Whoop-Ti-Yay"), and Elizabeth is married to Ben under "mining law," with Ben being granted exclusive rights to "all her mineral resources". Elizabeth, not content to be passively treated as property, threatens to shoot Ben on their wedding night if she is not treated with respect. She explains that she believes that Ben is not the type to truly settle down, and that while this is acceptable she wants him to treat her with respect while he stays and to build her a proper wooden cabin to provide her with some security for when he inevitably leaves. Ben is impressed by Elizabeth's determination, and promises to build her a cabin. He enlists the rest of the men to keep this promise, and Elizabeth rejoices in having a proper home ("A Million Miles Away Behind the Door").
Elizabeth's presence comes to be a novelty in the area, causing all the other miners to become somewhat obsessed with Elizabeth, and Ben to be consumed by jealousy and paranoia. News comes of the pending arrival of "six French tarts" to a neighboring town and a plan is hatched to kidnap the women and bring them to "No Name City" ("There's a Coach Comin' In"), thus providing the other miners with the potential for female companionship, giving Ben less reason to fear that the other men are after his wife, and providing the town with additional sources of income as other miners from outlying regions will likely be willing to spend their money in No Name City if it means a chance to visit prostitutes. Ben heads up the mission and leaves Elizabeth in the care of Pardner. While Ben is gone, the two fall in love ("I Talk to the Trees" by Pardner). Elizabeth says that she also still loves Ben, and convinces them that if a Mormon man can have two wives, a woman can have two husbands.
As the town booms, the arrangement with Ben, Pardner, and Elizabeth works well for a while until the town becomes large enough that more civilized people from the East begin to settle there. A parson begins to make a concerted effort to persuade the people of No Name City to give up their evil ways, warning the townsfolk that they will be swallowed up by God's wrath if they do not repent ("The Ballad of No Name City"). Meanwhile, a group of new settlers is rescued from the snow, and the straight-laced family is invited to spend the winter with Elizabeth and Pardner, who is assumed to be her only husband. Ben is left to fend for himself in town. In revenge Ben introduces one of the family, young Horton Fenty, to the pleasures of Rotten Luck Willie's saloon and cat house. This leads to Elizabeth dismissing both Ben and Pardner from the log cabin Ben built for her. Pardner takes to gambling in Willie's ("Gold Fever"). As the gold begins to play out Ben and a group of miners discover that gold dust is dropping through the floor boards of many of the saloons. They hatch a plan to tunnel under all the businesses to get at the gold ("The Best Things in Life are Dirty"). This brings the story to its climax when, during a bull and bear fight, the streets collapse into the tunnels dug by Ben and the others and the town is destroyed. A reprise of "The Ballad of No Name City" plays as the town is literally swallowed by the earth. At the end of the film Ben moves on to the next gold field ("Wand'rin' Star"), and Elizabeth and Pardner are shown reconciling. As Ben departs, he comments that never knew Pardner's real name, which Pardner then reveals: Sylvester Newel.
- Lee Marvin as Ben Rumson
- Clint Eastwood as Pardner
- Jean Seberg as Elizabeth
- Harve Presnell as Rotten Luck Willie
- Ray Walston as Mad Jack Duncan
- H.B. Haggerty as Steve Bull
- Eddie Little Sky as Native American
Differences between stage and film versions
Chayefsky provided a significantly changed storyline from the stage musical version. In the film "Rumson City" is simply called "No Name City," and Ben Rumson (Marvin) has no daughter. The character "Julio" is replaced by "Pardner" (Eastwood), now an American and Ben's partner in the gold claim. Additionally, in the film it is Pardner who falls in love with Elizabeth (Jean Seberg), Ben's wife under mining law, rather than the stage musical character Edgar Crocker. The temporary polyamorous solution to the love triangle among Ben, Pardner and Elizabeth appears only in the film as well. In the stage version, Ben Rumson dies at the end; in the film he survives.
Marvin accepted the lead role instead of appearing in The Wild Bunch. He received $1 million while Eastwood was paid $750,000 and a percentage of the profits. Before Seberg was cast, Diana Rigg and Julie Andrews were considered. Eastwood and Marvin did their own singing while Seberg's songs were dubbed. The early incarnation of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had a cameo in the song "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans". Some songs from the original musical were dropped and some were added by Alan Jay Lerner and Andre Previn, while others were used in different contexts.
Paint Your Wagon was made near Baker City, Oregon with filming beginning in May 1969 and ending in October. Other locations include Big Bear Lake, California and San Bernardino National Forest; the interiors were filmed at Paramount Studios with Joshua Logan directing. The film's initial budget was $10 million, before it eventually doubled to $20 million. A daily expense of $80,000 was incurred to transport cast and crew to the filming location, as the closest hotel was nearly 60 miles away. The elaborate camp used in the film cost $2.4 million to build.
The film was released at a time when movie musicals were going out of fashion, especially with younger audiences. Its overblown budget and nearly 3 hour length became notorious in the press. Eastwood was frustrated by the long delays in the making of the movie, later saying that the experience strengthened his resolve to become a director. According to Robert Osborne, Marvin drank heavily during the filming of the movie, which may have enhanced his screen appearance, but led to delays and many retakes.
Title Written by Sung by "I'm On My Way" Alan Jay Lerner
Chorus "I Still See Elisa" Alan Jay Lerner
Pardner "The First Thing You Know" Alan Jay Lerner
Ben Rumson "Hand Me Down That Can Of Beans" Alan Jay Lerner
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
"They Call the Wind Maria" Alan Jay Lerner
Rotten Luck Willie
"Whoop-Ti-Ay!" Alan Jay Lerner
Chorus "A Million Miles Away Behind the Door" Alan Jay Lerner
Elizabeth "I Talk to the Trees" Alan Jay Lerner
Pardner "There's A Coach Comin' In" Alan Jay Lerner
Rotten Luck Willie
"The Gospel of No Name City" Alan Jay Lerner
Parson "Best Things" Alan Jay Lerner
Mad Jack Duncan
"Wand'rin' Star" Alan Jay Lerner
"Gold Fever" Alan Jay Lerner
"Finale (I'm On My Way)" Alan Jay Lerner
Mad Jack Duncan
Paint Your Wagon was released in United States theaters in October 1969. The film became Paramount's sixth largest success up to that point when it earned $15 million over its release, although the earnings never offset the cost of the budget.
- Marvin's deep-voiced rendition of "Wand'rin' Star", accompanied by the film's choir, became a hit in the U.K. His voice was described by Jean Seberg as "like rain gurgling down a rusty pipe". Interviewed on NPR, Marvin said that the song was a hit in Australia, and someone there described it as, "The first 33 1/3 recorded at 45."
- The film was referenced in the The Simpsons episode "All Singing, All Dancing" (1998). In the episode, Homer and Bart rent the film, thinking it will be a violent traditional western, and are horrified to learn it's a musical. The characters in the film (including caricatured versions of Eastwood, Marvin and Lee Van Cleef) perform a song called "Gonna Paint That Wagon" which does not appear in the actual film.
- Hughes, Howard (2009). Aim for the Heart. London: I.B. Tauris. ISBN 9781845119027.
- Munn, Michael (1992). Clint Eastwood: Hollywood's Loner. London: Robson Books. ISBN 086051790x.
- Parish, James Robert (2006). Fiasco - A History of Hollywood’s Iconic Flops. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 359 pages.. ISBN 978-0-471-69159-4.
Links to related articles Lerner and Loewe musicals Theatre Film Films directed by Joshua Logan 1930sI Met My Love Again (1938) 1950s 1960s
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