Paint Your Wagon

Starring: Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg

Director: Joshua Logan
Released: 1969

Mood: If you have just totally stopped caring about what you watch you’re probably in the right mental space.

THIS MOVIE IS TERRIBLE, THE END

Just kidding, but you could actually stop reading and carry on with your life. It’s all downhill from here.

I’m going to be honest, my relationship with Clint Eastwood is rocky. I first saw him in A Fistful of Dollars and was like, “meh”. I thought aspects of the movie were good, but it didn’t live up to the hype. Then, THEN I saw Unforgiven and my mind was blown! 

But with Paint Your Wagon, I’m back to “meh”. 

It’s not Clint’s fault. This movie would have been terrible with anyone in it. Even if Sam Elliott and Kurt Russell or Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen had played the lead roles, they would have drowned in this bloated mess

Save yourself an hour and seven minutes plus a lot of f*cking suffering: watch Lee Marvin play the same character but even better in the much shorter Cat Ballou

Let’s tear into this even further. 

Paint Your Wagon is barely based on a 1951 musical of the same name. Some critics said the movie failed because musicals were on their way out. That is bullshit, because if you Google “best movie musicals of the ‘70s” you’ll see that the next whole decade is full of awesomeness. 

Sorry, Paint Your Wagon, can’t latch onto that excuse.

But in all seriousness, the movie was a typical Hollywood attempt to capitalize on the success of another wildly popular movie, in this case, The Sound of Music. They dug up another musical, and lead director Joshua Logan commissioned a location to shoot the entire movie (which is what was done for The Sound of Music). Both films are close to three hours long. 

  • Fun Mega-Fact: Paint Your Wagon’s location took seven months to build, so filming started already over budget and went on to cost DOUBLE. The location caused numerous expensive logistical problems. The set supposedly also drew local vagrants and hippies to its tent city. They started out stealing food, then wouldn’t leave so they were given parts as extras (but wouldn’t wear costumes or cut their hair), and eventually formed a union that demanded and won a daily wage and food allowance. Go figure.  

The ‘premise’, if you can call it that, is “No Name City, Population: Male”. It’s a gold rush town filled with men who are desperate for even a glance at a woman. When a Mormon man with two wives passes through town, the men convince him to sell one of his wives to the highest bidder. 

But it’s scruffy, fall-down-drunk Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) who wins the hand of Elizabeth (Jean Seberg). And he has a deal with his partner, Pardner (Clint Eastwood), that they share everything down the middle. Elizabeth says she loves both of them, so they are all ‘married’ and live together and it’s absolutely f*cking ridiculous

I’m not saying anything about REAL polyamorous relationships here. By the time this group becomes a threesome, Paint Your Wagon is already so pointless and bad that it’s just one more plot point that’s reaching too hard for a stupid laugh.

If I didn’t have this website and a deep-rooted love of writing scathing reviews, I would have gladly turned it off after 30 minutes. 

I love Lee Marvin, and of course, he insisted on being actual-drunk to play his character – a tactic he used effectively when filming Cat Ballou. His performance here is still hilarious. It’s just less so if you’ve already seen the same antics on Cat Ballou

Eastwood is passable. I can’t come up with anything else to say. He and Marvin do sing all of their own songs; Marvin’s recording of Wand’rin’ Star inexplicably went to number one on the UK charts, which is just a sad commentary on the taste level of that place and time. 

Marvin passed on The Wild Bunch for $1 million plus a box office percentage to make this bomb. The Wild Bunch! He’s lucky he signed for the million, because he sure wasn’t profiting from his percentage of a $20 million movie (that’s $187 million today) that made just over $50,000 in its first week. 

The women of Hollywood, on the other hand, could smell this f*cking stinkbomb a mile away. The role of Elizabeth was turned down by Dame Julie Andrews, Diana Rigg, and Faye Dunaway.

Then there’s the legitimately tragic Jean Seberg. This sweet soul had a short and heartbreaking life that was negatively impacted by making Paint Your Wagon. 

  • She got her first film role by winning a national talent search, playing Joan of Arc; critics ripped her to shreds, and the same happened with her second movie
  • She found success making French movies, and later made a few successful U.S. films with popular stars
  • Seberg and Eastwood had an affair while filming Paint Your Wagon, and she filed for divorce from her husband thinking they were going to get married; when filming wrapped, he blew her off (he was apparently boinking one of the extras too) and she was devastated
  • Seberg had always donated money to help civil rights, including Native Americans in her Iowa hometown and the Black Panther Party; for the latter donations, the FBI, led by J. Edgar Hoover, used a vicious harassment campaign to strip away her credibility
  • Seberg was so upset from the media attacks that she suffered a premature birth that resulted in the death of her child, which she never got over
  • Finally, she died of ‘apparent suicide’ according to Paris police – a man she was in a relationship with convinced her to sell one of her homes and he took all the money, then she left him at one point and reported abuse, but later her body turned up wrapped in a blanket in the backseat of her car, and the guy claims they went to the movies but when he woke up in the morning she was gone… seems shady AF to me 

I hope you’re thoroughly convinced to do literally anything other than watch Paint Your Wagon. Imagine what else you could do with three hours! Then go do that.