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100 Albums: "Paint Your Wagon" (1969 film) Soundtrack

Kurt is going through his favorite records. Read the explainer or view the master list.

Artist: Lerner and Loewe, various
Title: Paint Your Wagon
Released: 1969
Genre: Lerner and Loewe, who are a genre unto themselves

Why does this even exist? The 1951 Broadway musical by Lerner and Loewe was not a success. So why would anyone try to adapt it for film nearly two decades later? Why cast Clint Eastwood--a white dude--as a character named Julio? Why cast Lee Marvin--who is not a good singer--as the lead in a musical at all? The adaptation might as well have been a complete re-write. In addition to changing Julio's name to "Pardner", songs and characters were added and removed, the ones that remained were moved around and given to different characters. Notably, the stage show's biggest hit They Call The Wind Maria (pronounced Mariah--I don't know why) was taken away from the lead and given to a tertiary background character named Rotten-Luck Willy. Who thought this was a good idea? Why was it shot in a forest 60 miles away from the nearest hotel? The production had to spend $80,000 a day just to transport cast and crew to and from the locations--a cost that was compounded by delays caused by Marvin's constant on-set drunkenness. The film production went 100% over budget--it was such a mess, allegedly, that working on this film helped convince Eastwood that he should become a director. So of course, when the movie was released, it was a financial failure despite also being the sixth-highest grossing film of 1969. It didn't help matters that 1969 was the year the movie-watching public decided it was kind of done with big budget Hollywood musicals. Months after Paint Your Wagon was released, Hello Dolly starring Barbara Streisand came out and was also a box office disappointment.

And yet, Paint Your Wagon is your dad's favorite movie. Despite all of the problems with it (and its three-hour run-time!) it kind of works. He can't sing, but Lee Marvin has bundles of cinematic charisma. And Marvin's Ben Rumsen is one of my favorite character archetypes. He's genuinely toxic and his character arc is to realize that he genuinely likes some of the people he's been leeching off of and realizes that the best thing he can do for them is abandon them. Eastwood's Parnder is empathetic and charming--and despite Billy Crystal's jokes about it at the Oscars, his singing isn't bad at all--and he has real on-screen chemistry with both Marvin and their mutual love interest Elizabeth played by Jane Seaberg. The movie is chaotic, amoral, and irreverent, but it loves its characters even while it has jokes at their expense--especially Rumsen. And it ends with the destruction of the entire city at the hands of a bull and bear fight.

This soundtrack is one that I listened to in the car while my family made the fifteen hour drive from Houston to St. Louis when I was a child. I associate it with vacations, alongside South Pacific and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and The Big Folk Hits. When we're on a road trip and I'm acting surly, my wife will put it on because she knows it will win me over. As a kid I used to love singing along with Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans or The First Thing You Know or Gold Fever (even though I didn't understand them at all). Today I get more from A Million Miles Away Behind The Door or I Talk To The Trees, with its little hint of flamenco--a holdover from when it was sung by a character named Julio. Having grown up with the movie soundtrack and the film, I've always wanted to see the stage show, and I finally had an opportunity this summer at the Muny.

This was a mistake. I had no idea how different the movie and stage show are. My favorite moments and characters from the film aren't part of the stage show at all. And the recent productions deviate even more, taking the bones of the original stage show and re-writing the story again, but this time in perhaps the blandest way possible. I kinda of hated it. (And on the off-chance that my mom--who bought me the tickets--sees this... sorry. I still really appreciated it!)


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