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The Sick, the Strange and the Awful – Paint Your Wagon


It took me a long time to work up the courage to watch this. I mean, on paper, it sounds cool. Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, two of the best Western actors, together in a Western? What more could I want? But there is always a catch…

It’s a musical. A musical. A musical! You know, one with synchronous singing, random songoreous outbursts, and other songricious related materials. I actually don’t really mind musicals. I won’t go out of my way to watch them, but I don’t let all the singing and dancing put me off. Hell, my favourite movie of all time is a Western musical (that would be Cannibal! the Musical, for those out of the know).

So I sat through all two and a half hours of Paint Your Wagon, and I have to say I somewhat enjoyed it. I will admit it did mess with my head seeing Eastwood and especially Marvin singing. Actually, only Eastwood sings; he has a surprisingly good voice. Marvin, on the other hand, more lightly croons in his speaking voice, and hilariously enough, one of his songs “Wand’rin Star” actually reached the top of the charts in the UK, holding off The Beatles’ “Let It Be”. The third-billed actor, Jean Seberg, more well known for appearing in Godard’s excretable Breatheless,  is dubbed over in all of her songs, but all three stars have good chemistry with each other, and they needed it badly. Why?

Thank god, it’s Lee Marvin! He’s always drunk and violent.

Because the story is frankly absurd, especially for a big budget Hollywood film. I mean, a Mormon with two wives rides into town, and because they fight with each other, he sells one of them. And she’s willing to go to the highest bidder! Then she decides she loves both Marvin and Eastwood, and takes on both of them as joint husbands. They use the ‘yeehaw we’s in pre-state California so there’s no rules!” as the justification but sweet mercy that is bizarre. It may not seem like it, but think about the logistics. I mean, do they share her sexually? Do they take turns? Do they bang her at the same time? Why is my brain creating images of a Marvin/Eastwood sexual encounter, and how much whiskey do I need to inhale to remove those images?

That being said, the movie runs briskly for it’s runtime, the songs are unobtrusive if nothing else, and the last act is fun in the amount of destruction that occurs. If you can stomach lame musical numbers, Paint Your Wagon is an enjoyable romp, and worth seeing to watch the interaction between two giant Western stars in their primes.

Things I learnt:

  • Men back in the 1850s would pay $50 ($1364 of today’s dollars) to hold a baby for a woman.
  • Lee Marvin turned down The Wild Bunch to do this. He made the wrong choice.
  • A giant two story mansion can be built in three days using only rudimentary tools
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