Friday, May 21, 2010

"Paint Your Wagon" and the pitfalls of respectability



Title: Paint Your Wagon
Released: 1969
Genre: Indescribable musical mish-mash
Notable for: Clint sings (too often)
Clint's subliminal message: "Surprise! No one expected this."

Breaking tradition, Andrew invited two 16-year-old friends, Cole and Preston, to participate in The Clint Eastwood Project for additional male perspective.

"But," Brad said shamefully, "we're watching 'Paint Your Wagon.'"

"God, no!" Andrew moaned. "Cole has never seen any Clint Eastwood movie. He'll think we have vaginas."

Rarely is any film so universally ridiculed as this bloated musical.

Clint sings and plays kind of a weenie. The story is idiotic. The singing is worse than second-rate. The film is quasi-legendary as a big-budget flop plagued by troubled production. The project was such a disaster the director, Tony-winner Joshua Logan, never directed another movie.

"Uhhhgg," we groaned every time a new song started. "What kind of movie is this?" Preston asked.

It is a movie that goes on far too long at 2 hours and 44 minutes. It has too many songs with no value. Lee Marvin's singing is so horrible Clint sounds OK by comparison.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the final credits. Against all odds, it held our attention.


Clint and Lee Marvin are partners in a vice-filled gold-rush town. They share a woman who is "married" to both of them and sleeps with them on alternate nights. Between that nonsense, songs appear for no reason. Clint sings four songs, most disgracefully an insipid ditty called "I Talk to the Trees."

But the movie improved toward the end, which was an admittedly long wait. It had fewer songs and more of a humorous male-pig spirit. It is impossible to dislike a scene where a town meeting ends with a rollicking cry of, "All in favor of bringing prostitution to town say aye!" Plus Cole surprised us with a real talent for anticipating song lyrics and lip-syncing with a Broadway flair.

To the extent this film has a message, it says respectability is overrated. The few respectable characters, like a preacher and an upright farmer, are buffoons. Everyone who drinks, gambles, whores around and shares a wife is likable.

Respectability is the only explanation for why Clint signed up for a movie like this. It was the second of three big Hollywood productions he made in a row, which seems like a play for mainstream respect.

Clint himself later said making "Paint Your Wagon" was so disturbing the experience convinced him he wanted to direct movies so he could call the shots.

A real man prefers to do things as he sees fit, and that's respectable enough.

Next up: "Kelly's Heroes."

1 comment:

  1. LOOOOVE your disertation of this movie. We were so disturbed when we flipped the channel here and saw Clint singing, I Talk to the Trees that we just had to google it. Wow...we have a new vision of Clint now and yes, it is disturbing...LOL

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