Clint Eastwood

Paint Your Wagon

1969
Paramount Pictures

Directed by Joshua Logan
Produced by Alan Jay Lerner
Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky

In the late 1960’s Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood were at the top of the heap based on the tough action movies and westerns they both enjoyed immense success with. It seemed to be a no-brainer to put them in the same movie. So for their only film together what did they make?

A gritty, bloody western full of gunsmoke and dead bodies all over the place? No.

A suspenseful modern day urban crime thriller? No.

A stirringly glorious war epic with them heroically slaughtering Nazis by the thousands? No.

They made a musical comedy set in the days of The California Gold Rush called PAINT YOUR WAGON.

I’ll be honest here: for years I avoided PAINT YOUR WAGON because I want to see Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood killing folks, kicking ass and busting heads, not trying their best to sing. But every year Turner Classic Movies runs their annual “31 Days Of Oscar” where they show nothing but Oscar winning and nominated movies all month long. So it’s a great opportunity for me to catch movies I’ve never seen so I said what the hell and sat down to watch PAINT YOUR WAGON. And surprise, surprise, surprise: after about a half hour I found I liked the movie a lot and by the end I was satisfied that I had been thoroughly entertained.

Mountain man and gold prospector Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) crosses paths with a wagon train on its way west. There’s an accident where one wagon goes over a cliff and Ben rescues a young man who suffers a broken leg.  The young man’s brother is killed.  It’s while Ben and some of the men are saying a few words over the dead man that Ben spies gold in the grave. He promptly throws out the body and stakes the claim in the name of the young man he saved. The young man (Clint Eastwood) who Ben calls ‘Pardner’ all through the movie (he does have a real name but we don’t find out what it is until the very end of the film) throws in with Ben and they prospect for gold together while a rough mining camp springs up around them.

Into the camp comes a Mormon with two wives in tow and he’s persuaded to put up one of his wives, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg) for auction. Through a bizarre set of circumstances Ben ends up with the wife and the relationship turns out to be nothing like what either one of them expected. Ben finds that he actually begins to care for the well being of Elizabeth and he builds her a fine log cabin some distance away from the mining camp. Which really isn’t a camp anymore but has grown into No-Name City, a bustling pit of vice, sin, drunkenness, lawlessness and who knows what all else that actually looks like a lot of fun.

The situation gets complicated when Pardner and Elizabeth fall in love while Ben is away hijacking a stagecoach full of French prostitutes on their way to another town and brings them to No-Name City instead. Now Ben and Pardner each are willing to go away and let the other man have the woman but Elizabeth comes up with a novel solution: if a man can have two wives then why can’t a woman have two husbands?

The arraignment is satisfactory to all parties concerned until farming families come to No-Name City and Elizabeth develops a hankering for a more respectable way of life. In the meantime, Ben has found a new way of prospecting along with Pardner and Mad Jack Duncan (Ray Walston). It involves digging an extensive and complex series of tunnels under No-Name City itself and collecting the gold dust that falls between the floorboards of the various buildings. Miners are so careless with their gold dust that soon Ben, Pardner and Mad Jack are collecting more gold than they ever did prospecting. The mining scheme takes up a good deal of the last 45 minutes of the movie and comes to an ending that made me laugh out loud at its total lunacy. And yes, the unique marriage arraignment between Ben, Elizabeth and Pardner comes to a resolution as well before the final song.

Let’s get the first thing out of the way; PAINT YOUR WAGON is nowhere near as bad as I’ve been told all these years. Matter of fact, it’s a lot of goofy fun and that is thanks to Lee Marvin, who walks off with this movie from beginning to end. It always amazed me that for an actor known mainly for his tough guy roles, the only Oscar Lee Marvin won was for a comedy; “Cat Ballou”. But after watching PAINT YOUR WAGON I’m no longer surprised. The man actually was very gifted at comedy and 90% of the laughs in PAINT YOUR WAGON come from him. Lee Marvin had me hooked right at the beginning where he’s delivering the eulogy for Pardner’s dead brother. And there’s a bit he does at the end where he’s walking away from the devastation of No-Name City that he caused. There’s something about the way he’s trying to pretend he’s got nothing to do with what’s happening that cracked me up.

How about his singing you ask? Well, Lee Marvin doesn’t actually sing. He does that Rex Harrison/Richard Harris style of singing where he’s more or less talking along with the music. But he pulls it off. And there’s a song near the end called “Wand’rin’ Star” that he actually does really well. It’s worth sitting through the movie waiting for that number.

Clint Eastwood is very laid back and likeable in this movie. His crooning isn’t that bad, either. It’s certainly not anything memorable and his “Gold Fever” number is hideous but the other songs he does are okay. Jean Seberg is the acting disappointment in this movie. She comes off as a bland and uninteresting actress and the relationship between Ben and Pardner are much more interesting than the relationship Elizabeth has with them. And her singing is atrocious. Actually the singing of whoever dubbed her is atrocious. If you decide to watch this movie, when they get to her big (and only) number “A Million Miles Away Behind The Door” feel free to head to the kitchen for snacks or take a bathroom break. You won’t be missing anything.

Probably the only song you’ll recognize right away is “They Call the Wind Maria” sung by Harve Presnell. I also liked “The Gospel of No-Name City” and “Hand Me Down That Can of Beans” Try your best to keep a straight face when Clint sings “I Talk to the Trees” and don’t listen too closely to the lyrics.

So should you see PAINT YOUR WAGON? I don’t see why not. It’s nowhere near in the league of classic movie musicals, that’s for sure and it’s the only musical I can think of where none of the leads can sing. But it does have that wonderfully loony Lee Marvin performance and I liked the way the story bounced from one goofy scene to the next without stopping to catch it’s breath. Clint Eastwood and Ray Walston both look as if they’re having a good time and if you can stay awake through the scenes where Jean Seberg is on screen I think you’ll have a good time as well.

164 minutes
Rated PG-13

Better In The Dark #113

Episode 113: BEYOND MAGNUMS AND SIX GUNS: A CELEBRATION OF CLINT EASTWOOD

The Summer of Great, Great Men continues as the Guys Outta Brooklyn celebrate the man who has become both an iconic star and a revered director, Clint Eastwood! Join Tom and Derrick as they discuss their favorite Eastwood films, explain why the man has endured for so long, and dispute the feeling that he’s not a good actor. Plus actors playing minorities they’re not, more monkey talk and Gina Gershon gets all lesbian on us. You don’t want Sondra Locke to return to the big screen, so get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
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Better In The Dark #108

 

Episode 108: SPANISH LEATHER AND AMERICAN BLOOD: THE MYTHIC WEST OF SERGIO LEONE

The Guys Outta Brooklyn continue to celebrate Great, Great Men in 2011 by turning their sights on an Italian director who wanted to express his frustration with the American Western–and ended up revolutionizing cinema worldwide! Join Tom and Derrick as they discuss the all-too-small body of work of Sergio Leone, from The Dollars Trilogy to his handful of uncredited turns behind the typewriter and camera to his grand crime epic Once Upon A Time In America. The guys also spend some time discussing the Other Great Filmmaker of the Modern Western, Sam Peckinpah; talk about how Leone taking a chance on this television actor Clint Eastwood was integral to his success; and answer listener mail about anime and whether certain super-heroes are inherently ludicrous. You can make fun of our mule…or you can get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies

DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes

Join us now at http://www.earth-2.net!

Tom and Walter Bonham tackle the comic book issues of the day at BURNING COMICS! http://tschamp.podomatic.com

The Rookie

1990

Warner Bros.

Produced by Howard G. Kazanjian, Steven Siebert & David Valdes

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by Scott Spiegel and Boaz Yakin

Clint Eastwood has made film history in two genres: The Western and Police/Cop movies with him either starring or directing (or both) in some memorable roles.  There’s Dirty Harry Callahan, of course.  The Outlaw Josey Wales.  The Man With No Name.  Sheriff Walt Coogan from “Coogan’s Bluff” the movie that was the inspiration for TV’s “McCloud”

However, nobody remembers Clint Eastwood’s one and only entry in a subgenre of the Police/Cop movie: The Buddy Cop Movie which enjoyed immense popularity during the 80’s and the 90’s.  Roger Ebert likes to call Buddy Cop Movies ‘Wunza Movies’.  As in “One’s a…” which is how a description of a Buddy Cop Movie usually starts.  Buddy Cop Movies are ridiculously simple to make.  Two cops, exact opposites in attitude, styles and personality are teamed up.  They hate each other.  During the course of their case (a case that you just know they’ll be kicked off of) they grow to respect and even like each other.  Its friendship/male bonding through bullets, explosions and disregarding civil rights and it’s all good.  The best example of The Buddy Cop Movie is without a doubt the classic “Lethal Weapon” series but Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen took a whack at it with THE ROOKIE.

Nick Pulovski (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran L.A. cop hot on the track of Strom (Raul Julia) a high level chop shop operator.  He’s got them spread out all over the city and employs a team of expert car thieves to supply him with product.  Nick interrupts a robbery in which his partner (Hal Williams) is killed.  Nick naturally wants to go after Strom and put him away for life but the case is taken away from him since he works auto theft and due to his partner’s murder, the case has been bumped up to Homicide.

That doesn’t sit well with Nick and he likes it even less that his new partner is the fresh out of the Police Academy rookie David Ackerman (Charlie Sheen) who comes to work in Armani suits and is from an enormously wealthy family.

In the best tradition of Buddy Cop Movies, Nick ignores the orders of his commanding officer and sets out to put the hammer down on Strom anyway, dragging a reluctant David along with him.  During the course of the case they’ll share tender moments while facing down a bar full of Hispanic bikers, battling attack dogs, getting bushwhacked, tortured and raped by Strom’s enforcer Liesl (Sonia Braga and yes, I’m getting to the rape bit, be patient) surviving explosions huge enough to level city blocks and one apocalyptic shootout after another in which vertical blizzards of bullets are fired at them.  Not to mention their own personal demons.  But if they survive they’ll have a friendship stronger than marriage.  Which is really what these types of movies are all about, really.  Solving the case comes secondary to the heartwarming story of an Odd Couple pairing of cops becoming bosom buddies and life long pals.

Not that Nick and David actually solve anything, mind you.  Their style of police work is to methodically kill all the bad guys until there’s nobody left to arrest.  I think this is one of the few modern day cop movies where I’ve never heard Miranda invoked once.  And search warrants are a joke.  At one point Nick freely admits to David that he’s put an illegal wiretap on Strom because he knows no judge will authorize a legit tap.  It’s that kinda movie.

Clint Eastwood doesn’t so much create a character as embody the cliché traits we’ve come to see in this type of movie.  Failed marriage?  Check.  Alcohol dependency issues?  Check.  Flouting and downright ignoring proper police procedure and regulations? Check.  But he does seem to be having a good time amid all the explosions and gunfights.  And I could be wrong but I think this is perhaps the most violent movie Eastwood has ever directed and starred in.  And if you’ve seen as many Eastwood movies as I have, that’s saying something. Even by today’s standards this is an extremely brutal and violent movie and by the end, Nick and David are as shot up, beaten and bloody as the bad guys they’ve spent the last thirty minutes of the movie killing.

And then there’s the scene that everybody who saw the movie during its original theatrical run remembers: the scene where Sonia Braga’s Liesl sadistically and ritualistically cuts a tightly tied-up Nick with a razor blade then proceeds to stimulate him to an erection. As to what happens next…well, let’s just say it’s not everyday you’re going see a scene like that in a movie and it’s a jaw-dropper for sure.  Not as jaw-dropping as the scene where the baby-faced Charlie Sheen takes on an entire barroom full of bikers as well as a couple of bloodthirsty pit bulls but it’s up there, that’s for sure.

Sonia Braga really has a lot of fun playing Liesl and she is so stunning beautiful even while she’s mowing down innocent bystanders in an airport terminal with an Uzi.  Sonia Braga back then was what Salma Hayek is now and if you’ve ever seen her in a movie, I think you’ll agree.  Raul Julia plays the bad guy with tightly controlled relish and one of the most puzzling things about the movie is that Strom and Liesl are supposed to be German even though their crew is predominantly Hispanic and they speak with Hispanic accents.

Charlie Sheen gets a lot of screen time mid way through the movie since Eastwood gets captured and held by the ransom and Sheen goes on a rampage to try and find his partner.  How much of Sheen’s tough guy act you buy is strictly up to you, of course, but damn if he doesn’t look like he’s having a good time doing all this crazy action stuff.

So should you see THE ROOKIE?  Sure.  It’s a movie that never seems to get mentioned whenever a list of favorite Clint Eastwood movies are put together but it’s a well made actioner with plenty of terrific stunts, fight scenes and clever enough dialog that I think it’s worth a rental.  And it’s downright fun to see Eastwood’s version of a Buddy Cop Movie.  There’s also a bunch of very good support from acting favorites of mine such as Pepe Serna, Lara Flynn Boyle, Xander Berkeley and Paul Ben-Victor.  Watch and enjoy.

121 minutes

Rated R: And boy, does it earn its rating in terms of language and violence.  For the animal lovers out there, be advised that there are scenes of dog fighting so don’t say I didn’t warn you