Paint Your Wagon UHD/Blu-ray Review

3 Stars Deeply flawed but tuneful screen musical.
Paint Your Wagon Review screenshot

Time hasn’t enhanced the pleasures of this misbegotten musical, Paint Your Wagon.

Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Released: 15 Oct 1969
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 164 min
Director: Joshua Logan
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Musical
Cast: Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg
Writer(s): Alan Jay Lerner, Paddy Chayefsky
Plot: Two unlikely prospector partners share the same wife in a California gold rush mining town.
IMDB rating: 6.6
MetaScore: 50

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 2 Hr. 44 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 03/26/2024
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 3/5

Big in every sense of the word, Joshua Logan’s Paint Your Wagon offers occasional, momentary pleasures amid great gobs of tedious direction and a varying musical score. Based only in part on a successful but by then (1969) decades-old Broadway chestnut, the movie of Paint Your Wagon was fashioned with a new libretto and, while retaining eight songs from the original musical, has been fitted with some new tunes (two duds, three jauntier items) more appropriate for its new tale. The mix, like so much else in the film, only works in fits and starts. The two top-billed stars own the lion’s share of the screen time, but there really isn’t much story for them to tell.

Eternally wandering prospector Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) happens on a gold strike in California while digging a grave for a man’s brother lost in a prairie accident. The surviving brother (Clint Eastwood) becomes Ben’s “Pardner” in his various escapades which eventually includes buying a Morman’s second wife Elizabeth (Jean Seberg, vocals by Anita Gordon) whom the Mormon sheds and marrying her, hijacking a wagonload of prostitutes headed to a nearby town, digging for gold under the boom town No Name City that springs up, and teaching a young innocent (Tom Ligon) the joys of drinking, smoking, gambling, and whoring.

To conform to the changing tastes of 1969 movie audiences, screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner (with an adaptation credit from Paddy Chayefsky) ditched the plot of the 1951 Broadway musical he penned with composer Frederick Loewe and charted a new course for his protagonist Ben Rumson, but his plotting is extremely weak, and eight numbers from Broadway have been inserted where ever Lerner can find a spot for them rather than their springing naturally from emotional necessity in the libretto. For example, the show’s hit tune “They Call the Wind Maria” is merely a lament for the town’s hundreds of lonely men without women (the lyrics don’t quite fit, but Harve Presnell’s “Rotten Luck” Willie sings it magnificently). “I Still See Elisa” is Pardner’s “I Want” song (having no girl in his life, certainly no one named Elisa), “Wanderin’ Star” is Ben’s song suggesting itchy feet signaling the time to set off in search of new adventures (but the film still has a half hour left to run).

With such vapid storytelling, there is little wonder that director Joshua Logan has trouble maintaining any kind of jaunty pace to the film. It slogs along in both its acts without much connecting thread and actually seems longer than it is. He has resisted the temptation for too many close-ups that plagued his direction of Camelot, though he still oddly focuses his camera too often at the men’s feet tromping and stomping through mud. To be fair, he captures some genuine excitement in “There’s a Coach Comin’ In” as the town’s men anticipate the arrival of the tarts Ben and friends have kidnapped, and “Hand Me Down that Can o’ Beans” has some lift to it, too, despite a lack of genuine choreography, and the town’s climactic collapse is captured with all its fit and fury intact. Elizabeth gets her “I Want” song, too, (“A Million Miles Away”) though it’s a bit off since she sings it after she has gotten what she wanted. It’s one of five new tunes by André Previn, necessitated by Frederick Loewe’s retirement. (Lerner did drag him back to work in the 1970s to add new songs for the stage version of Gigi and to craft the score for the movie musical The Little Prince.) “The First Thing You Know” (which introduces us to Lee Marvin’s talk singing style) and “Here It Is” by the town’s hellfire and brimstone preacher (Alan Dexter) are songs that fit the genuine tone of Loewe’s stage tunes.

Lee Marvin’s blowhard performance pretty much steals the show here. It’s overdone (he spends a fair portion of the film in a stupor and often face down), but he gives the movie most of its sense of fun. His talk-singing is often pretty off key, but the character’s rough-and-tumble nature lets him get away with it. Clint Eastwood’s singing voice is blandly mellow but thin at the top of his register where it tends to go a tiny bit sharp, but that’s really only noticeable in the late slotted song “Gold Fever.” Jean Seberg looks lovely but besides being the fulcrum for the throuple storyline (instead of the usual man with two wives), she has little to do and nothing outside the house. Great Broadway names like Harve Presnell and Ray Walston are buried under tons of whiskers and either do little or overdo (in Walston’s case) what little they’re given. John Mitchum as the Mormon with two wives, Tom Ligon as the innocent farm lad looking for excitement, Alan Dexter as the fire-breathing preacher, and Robert Easton as an outspoken prospector make notable if brief appearances.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully represented in both the UHD (2160p, HEVC codec) and Blu-ray (1080p, AVC codec) discs. Scanned from the original camera negative, the images are like seeing the film on opening night: clear, detailed, and precise as can be except when the camera is deliberately soft-focused or dust and fog make it impossible to register sharpness. Hues are beautiful with especially realistic flesh tones: ruddy for many of the men and pinker for the women). The Dolby Vision/HDR on the UHD disc does add some depth to the blacks in various night and underground scenes. There are no vestiges of age on either disc. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The discs offer DTS-HD Master Audio sound mixes in 2.0 stereo surround and in 5.1, selectable from the main menu. There’s a bit more separation in the 5.1 mix though the male chorus numbers (the title song, “Beans,” “Maria,” “Coach”) sound more dynamic in the 2.0 mix, and the lyrics and dialogue are easily discernible in either mix. There is no overture present on the discs, but there is the Intermission/Entr’acte and Exit Music present.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film mavens Dwayne Epstein, Courtney Joyner, and Henry Parke have a fun gab session during the lengthy unspooling of this roadshow musical (they don’t talk during the Entr’acte and stop talking before the exit music medley begins) relating anecdotes about probably a hundred people and films tangentially related in some way to Paint Your Wagon. There are errors in their discussion (the Harve Presnell musical with Connie Francis was not Looking for Love; Rita is not the first name of Jean Seberg’s dubber), and wouldn’t you have expected one of them to have printed out a cast and crew list prior to recording so they could identify Oscar-winner John Truscott as the production designer? Some of their stories are entertaining to be sure, but it’s a madcap mélange of memories they share during this very long commentary.

Theatrical Trailer (1:06, SD)

Kino Trailers: Sergeant Ryker, Prime Cut, Monte Walsh, Two Mules for Sister Sara, High Plains Drifter, Escape from Alcatraz, Flower Drum Song, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Change of Habit.

Cardboard Slipcover

Overall: 3/5

Joshua Logan’s Paint Your Wagon has not improved over time: its fragmented and lethargic storytelling is enhanced but not completely saved by a lively score and an expensive ($18 to $20 million depending on what reference books you read) production. Star watchers and musical lovers will be delighted with the beautiful presentation in either 4K or high definition, and the film’s flaws will likely seem less important in view of the gorgeous picture and sound quality of the presentation here.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Alan Tully

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Great stuff! A 5 out of 5 for picture & sound is what I was looking for. I've already ordered it thinking that it has to be better than the DVD, & I'm not that bothered about the extras & I know the film is not some peoples cup of tea, but I like it, & that's what counts.
 

BobO'Link

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I like the movie and enjoy several of the songs. It's one of a half dozen musicals I rewatch every year or two (all others get far fewer rewatchings as I'm not much of a fan of the genre). I'm getting it for the upgrade from my old DVD copy.
 

Bernard McNair

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Thank you for the balanced review, Matt.
I am in the camp of great affection for Paint Your Wagon.
Joshua Logan was a great stage director but I cannot argue that he was more than competent in the movie musicals he made. Rather, I see his filmed musicals as good to great entertainment as opposed to great filmmaking.
The PG on the new release sounds excellent and I look forward to my copy arriving.
 

RolandL

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11/22/69
cineramad102266.jpg
 

PMF

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There is not a truly terrible film musical in history that doesn't have ten immediate posters saying they love it. Not one. Not even Mame. Not even Man of La Mancha. Not even Lost Horizon. :)
What’s so wrong about posters expressing their joys, in the first place? Nothing. Happiness is a good thing.

Hey, Kino, count me in for a purchase of Paint Your Wagon, too.

Thank you, Matt, for a well balanced review.
 
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Indy Guy

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Thanks for confirming the great technical attributes of this transfer, but all of us that love this film (and I can assure you there are more than 10) can't wait for this to be released!
I had a friend who had an annual Paint Your Wagon party for many years and there is a nearby BarBQ restaurant has a corner of the main dining room celebrating the film with artwork and stills.
To me the pacing is just right for a musical and only a couple songs miss the mark. The 3rd act comes to life with the arrival of the conservative Fetty family taken in by this highly unusual "triple" living under one roof. Son, Horton Fetty quickly steals every scene he is in with his comic innocence. In the midst of this madness is Marvin's stirring rendition of Wander'n Star. The lyrics are some of my favorites for expressing emotional sentiments I fully identify with... Now more than ever!
On top of all this, PYW is one of John Truscott's 2 great cinematic efforts, Camelot being the other. Sadly he returned to his homeland Austrailia in the late 70's and the world lost the chance to see what might have been an astonishing career of cinematic achievements.
I had a chance to meet with John regarding a potential design project, but the allure to return to his native Melbourne and design it's theater complex along with 5 years of its productions was too great. After he passed away I happened to be in Melbourne while they were celebrating John's life with a remounting of his theatrical version of Camelot. I kept that program explaining the dedication to John. He had devoted his energy to making art, lighting and public spaces in Melbourne an absolutely world class urban metropolis.
 

Alan Tully

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There is not a truly terrible film musical in history that doesn't have ten immediate posters saying they love it. Not one. Not even Mame. Not even Man of La Mancha. Not even Lost Horizon. :)
I plead guilty, your honer, & I'd like ten other offences to be taken into consideration. Actually I'm not that keen on musicals, I saw Damn Yankees for the first time the other week & quite enjoyed it, but I don't think I could sit through West Side Story or Oklahoma, or any of that ilk.

Maybe my favourite musical is Phantom Of The Paradise, but then all the musical numbers take place on the stage (just like in all those Busby Berkeley musicals I love), people don't just start singing. I do think that Paint Your Wagon would be nothing without Lee Marvin, he carries the whole film, I don't think Clint Eastwood makes much of an impact at all, & his singing is forgettable (boring).

Why do we like & dislike things (movies, music, books, clothes, people)? I think it's unknowable. Take, Paint Your Wagon, I didn't fancy it at the time, so I didn't go to see it & it was only around 10 years ago that I thought I might like it & bought the DVD (s/h) & loved it (but how did that thought that I might like it jump into my mind?).

...oh, & Bruce, you left out Doctor Dolittle ('67) from your little list of the damned :)
 
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B-ROLL

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As I've said I did a total 180 when I saw PYW at the Warner Cinerama with that glorious 6 track sound system. I love Marvin doing Wanderin Star. But get the Broadway cast cd just to hear James Barton do it. Beautiful.

Here's a blurry hissy YouTube version with Robert Goulet's version of Wandrin Star
 
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