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Paint Your Wagon

Paint Your Wagon

A Big Bawdy Bust

by Jim Bray

With all the big name talent in front of and behind the camera, this movie should actually be a lot better than it turns out to be.

After all, Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood were big stars in 1969 when this movie came out theatrically - and Paddy Chayefsky, Lerner and Lowe, André Previn and Joshua Logan were also Big Names in their own right. And the production values of a big, expensive film shot on location, with glorious audio and beautiful widescreen video should end up being the knockout punches that help create a true blockbuster.

So why does PYW not reach the "Sound of Music" or (to more fairly compare Lerner and Lowe with Lerner and Lowe rather than Rogers and Hammerstein) "My Fair Lady?"

Maybe it's the male-oriented subject matter of a bunch of gold-crazy prospectors opening up California - and in the process creating a town that makes Las Vegas look as moral as the Vatican. Maybe it's the sense of disconnect you get when Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood start singing (perhaps "singing" would be more accurate: they really tried, but they weren't hired for their ability to carry a tune).

Perhaps it's the fact that the whole movie looks dubbed, as if the lovely mountain stream that rushes through the film's location was just too loud and they had to loop all the dialogue later so it could be heard - and the looping performances didn't have the fire of the live versions.

Maybe it's the lack of Really Big Hit Songs. With the exception of "They Call The Wind Maria" and possibly "Wandrin' Star," Paint Your Wagon doesn't have as memorable a score. Oh, there's nothing really wrong with it, it just isn't Lerner and Lowe's best effort. Maybe it's the pacing, or the fact that when the songs happen the movie really stops in its tracks until the plot and dialogue starts up again afterward.

I don't know. Whatever it is, it all conspires to make Paint Your Wagon a wonderful but ultimately flawed attempt at making a big, raucous adult musical.

That doesn't mean it isn't worth seeing, however. I saw the movie several times during its first theatrical release, and a couple of times on substandard video releases since then. I enjoyed the movie a lot, thought I didn't enjoy the videos - until this DVD version.

The DVD is really how this big movie should be seen. The anamorphic widescreen picture (16x9 TV compatible) and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio soundtrack are nothing short of spectacular. The audio is so good that Marvin and Eastwood's singing, which I had thought was okay in the theater, is revealed for what it is: non-singing movie stars going through the motions. And the video quality is so good I wanted to jump into the screen and set up my own homestead in the gorgeous valley the producers chose as the location for the film.

The DVD also includes the intermission and Entr'acte music, and the full length exit music that played as patrons shuffled out of the theater. They're wonderful inclusions, and they sound great.

But back to the film. Marvin and Eastwood are very good in their roles (when they aren't singing), and co-star Jean Seberg as the wife the two partners (sorry, pardners) share is beautiful, sexy, strong, warm, and determined. She's great! The supporting cast, led by Ray Walston and Harve Presnell, are all very good as well - though Presnell, who can sing, seems a bit out of place BECAUSE he can sing!

The story is more suitable for adults than young children, though the debauchery is pretty mild and handled fairly tastefully. They tend to dump on Christians a tad, paving the way for the trend of the 1970's and beyond, but in this case it seems more because they protagonists realize they're living what could be considered unwholesome lives and they feel guilty about it.

In the end, Paint Your Wagon is nowhere near Hollywood's best musical, but it's still a marvelously fun and irreverent three hours in the home theater and its video and audio quality make it a worthy addition to the home theater collection.

Paint Your Wagon, from Paramount Home Entertainment
164 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg
Written by Alan Jay Lerner, Paddy Chayefsky, Produced by Alan Jay Lerner, Tom Shaw III
Directed by Joshua Logan.


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Updated May 5, 2010