Paint Your Wagon is not a documentary, really its not, despite all my in-classroom jokes to the contrary. But you can get a decent feel for the history of the US west by watching it. And understand why Clint Eastwood never did another musical. Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Harve Presnell, Alan Dexter and Jean Seaberg, along with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, spin a tale of farming, prospecting, gambling, and the different people who went West and why. Plus great music, neat settings, and some of the greatest throw-away lines in a movie.If anyone is familiar with the film (1969), it is probably because of the song “They Call the Wind Mariah”
I also like Lee Marvin’s two solos. He’s not a singer by any means, but the songs fit the character so well. I’ve used “The First Thing You Know” in environmental history classes and religion classes, tongue-in-cheek, because of the opening verse.
(Sorry bout the commercial)
But there’s also Elizabeth, who longs to live “a million miles away, behind the door. “Roll up the plains/ There’s too much space for me,” was a feeling shared by many of the women who crossed the Plains. And Pardner (Clint Eastwood), who becomes disenchanted with mining and wants to go back to farming. Mormons and missionaries, Oregon-bound settlers and prostitutes, professional gamblers and wandering souls all pass through the film. It’s humorous, well filmed, but also has some serious points. It is also slow and very long at three hours, probably too long for modern audiences.
And it’s an intriguing take on the Turner Thesis of western settlement. There are only one or two Indians in the film, no Hispanos, and no ranchers, but lots of prospectors, and farmers. Anglo-Americans, Brits, a few Frenchmen, Chinese, Slavs, every major settlement group that crossed the West is represented. Each group passes through No Name City. And the farmers and “civilization” push the miners and Ben Rumson farther west, led by their wandering star.
And the ending! 🙂 “Howdy, Preacher! Welcome to Hell!”