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Paint Your Wagon (film)

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Paint Your Wagon
Original film poster by Ron Lesser
Directed byJoshua Logan
Screenplay byAlan Jay Lerner
Paddy Chayefsky (adaptation)
Based onPaint Your Wagon
by Alan Jay Lerner
Frederick Loewe
Produced byAlan Jay Lerner
StarringLee Marvin
Clint Eastwood
Jean Seberg
Ray Walston
Harve Presnell
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited byRobert C. Jones
Music byLerner and Loewe
Additional song composer:
André Previn
Songs orchestrated and conducted by Nelson Riddle
Alan Jay Lerner Productions
The Malpaso Company
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 15, 1969 (1969-10-15)[1]
Running time
154 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[3]
Box office$31.6 million[4]

Paint Your Wagon is a 1969 American Western[5] musical film starring Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Jean Seberg. The film was adapted by Paddy Chayefsky from the 1951 musical Paint Your Wagon by Lerner and Loewe. It is set in a mining camp in Gold Rush-era California. It was directed by Joshua Logan.


When a wagon crashes into a ravine, prospector Ben Rumson finds two adult occupants, brothers, one of whom is dead and the other of whom has a broken arm and leg. During the dead man's burial, gold dust is discovered at the grave site. Ben stakes a claim on the land and adopts the surviving brother as his "Pardner" while he recuperates.

Pardner hopes to make enough in the gold rush to buy some land and is suspicious of the fast-living Ben. Ben claims that while he is willing to fight, steal, and cheat at cards, he will never betray a partner. Ben will share the spoils of prospecting on the condition that Pardner takes care of him in his moments of drunkenness and melancholy.

After the discovery of gold, "No Name City" springs up as a tent city, with the miners alternating between wild parties and bouts of loneliness. The men become frustrated with the lack of female companionship, and the arrival of Jacob Woodling, a Mormon with two wives, is enough to catch everyone's attention. The miners persuade Woodling to sell one of his wives to the highest bidder. Elizabeth, Jacob's younger wife, agrees to be sold, as she is unsatisfied with her current husband.

Still drunk, Ben winds up with the highest bid for Elizabeth. After being readied for the wedding by the other miners, he is married to Elizabeth under "mining law", with Ben being granted exclusive rights to her. Elizabeth, not content to be seen as property, threatens to shoot Ben on their wedding night if she is not treated with respect. Despite believing Ben is not the type to settle down, she views their arrangement as acceptable if he will build a cabin to provide her with some security for when he inevitably leaves. Ben, impressed by her determination, enlists the miners to help him keep this promise, and Elizabeth rejoices in having a proper home.

News comes of the pending arrival of "six French tarts" to a neighboring town via stagecoach. A plan is hatched to divert the stagecoach under false pretenses and bring the women to "No Name City", thus providing the other miners with female companionship. Ben heads up the mission and leaves Elizabeth in the care of Pardner. The two fall in love. Elizabeth, also still loving Ben, convinces them that "if a Mormon man can have two wives, why can't a woman have two husbands?" The polyandrous arrangement works until the town becomes large enough that civilized people begin to settle there. A parson begins to make a determined effort to persuade the townsfolk to give up their evil ways. Meanwhile, Ben and a group of miners discover that gold dust is dropping through the floor boards of many saloons. They tunnel under all the businesses to get the gold.

A group of new settlers is rescued from the snow, and the strait-laced family is invited to spend the winter with Elizabeth and Pardner, who is assumed to be her only husband. Ben is left to fend for himself. In revenge, he introduces one of the family, the naive Horton Fenty, to the pleasures of a local saloon and brothel. This leads to Elizabeth dismissing both Ben and Pardner from the log cabin, and Pardner takes to gambling. During a bull-and-bear fight, the rampaging bull falls into the tunnel complex dug by Ben and the others and knocks out all of the support beams, causing the streets and buildings to collapse. Eventually, the town is destroyed entirely. Ben departs for other gold fields. Before this, Pardner reveals his real name to Ben: Sylvester Newel. Elizabeth and Pardner reconcile and plan to stay.


Musical numbers[edit]

All songs written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, unless otherwise noted.

  1. "I'm on My Way" – Chorus
  2. "I Still See Elisa" – Pardner
  3. "The First Thing You Know" (Lerner/André Previn) – Ben
  4. "Hand Me Down That Can o' Beans" – Chorus, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  5. "They Call the Wind Maria" – Rotten Luck Willie and Chorus
  6. "Whoop-Ti-Ay!" – Chorus
  7. "A Million Miles Away Behind the Door" (Lerner/Previn) – Elizabeth
  8. "I Talk to the Trees" – Pardner
  9. "There's a Coach Comin' In" – Rotten Luck Willie and Chorus
  10. "The Gospel of No Name City" (Lerner/Previn) – Parson
  11. "Best Things" (Lerner/Previn) – Ben, Mad Jack, and Pardner
  12. "Wand'rin' Star" – Ben and Chorus
  13. "Gold Fever" (Lerner/Previn) – Pardner and Chorus
  14. "Finale (I'm on My Way)" – Ben, Mad Jack, and Chorus


Chart (1970) Position
Australia (Kent Music Report)[6] 6


Multiple attempts were made to adapt Alan Jay Lerner's Paint Your Wagon into a film. Warner Bros. considered making the film with Doris Day and Paramount Pictures considered making it with Bing Crosby. Louis B. Mayer purchased the film rights before his death in 1957, and Paramount bought the rights from his estate.[7]

Lerner, who wrote the screenplays for An American in Paris, Gigi, and My Fair Lady, produced the film. Lerner selected Joshua Logan, who previously directed the film adaption of Lerner's Camelot, to direct the film. Blake Edwards wanted to direct the film, but Lerner declined his offer and Edwards instead directed Darling Lili. The plot was significantly changed from the stage play. Lerner attempted to have Frederick Loewe compose the film's soundtrack, but he declined and instead suggested André Previn.[8]

Clint Eastwood was selected instead of George Maharis.[9] Lee Marvin accepted the lead role instead of appearing in The Wild Bunch.[3] He received $1 million, while Eastwood was paid $750,000.[3][10] Faye Dunaway,[11] Mia Farrow[12] and Tuesday Weld[13] turned down the role of Elizabeth before Seberg was cast. Julie Andrews, Sally Ann Howes, and Diana Rigg were also considered for the role.[3][9] Lesley Ann Warren, who was under contract to Paramount, had to bow out after she became pregnant.[14]

Eastwood and Marvin did their own singing, while Seberg's songs were dubbed by Anita Gordon. Agnes de Mille was asked to choreograph the film, but declined.[9][15]

Paint Your Wagon was shot near Baker City, Oregon, with filming beginning in May 1968 and ending that October.[3] Other locations included Big Bear Lake, California, and the San Bernardino National Forest; the interiors were filmed at Paramount Studios, with Joshua Logan directing. The film's initial budget was $10 million, before it eventually doubled to $20 million. A daily expense of $80,000 was incurred to transport cast and crew to the filming location, as the closest hotel was nearly 60 miles away. The elaborate camp used in the film cost $2.4 million to build.[3][16]

A rainstorm destroyed the road connecting the set to Baker City and Paramount had to pay $10,000 per mile to rebuild the road. Lerner almost fell down a 400-foot cliff during filming. Hippies who had been cast as extras formed a union and threatened to strike unless their daily pay was increased to $25.[17]

The film was released at a time when movie musicals were going out of fashion, especially with younger audiences. Its overblown budget and nearly three-hour length became notorious in the press. Eastwood was frustrated by the long delays in the making of the film, later saying that the experience strengthened his resolve to become a director. According to Robert Osborne, Marvin drank heavily during filming, which may have enhanced his screen appearance, but led to delays and many retakes.[citation needed]


Paint Your Wagon opened at Loew's State II theatre in New York City on October 15, 1969.[1] In the UK, Paint Your Wagon had a 79-week 70mm roadshow run at the Astoria Theatre in London.[citation needed]


Critical response[edit]

Vincent Canby, in his October 16, 1969, review for The New York Times, wrote that the film was "amiable... However, because amiability is never in over-abundant supply, especially in Hollywood super-productions, the movie can be enjoyed more than simply tolerated." He ended the review by expanding on its pleasantness:

Most of the time, Paint Your Wagon is very easy to take, as amiable as Marvin, Eastwood, and Miss Seberg, whose contemporary movie presences give an old property brand-new cool.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 43%, based on reviews from 21 critics.[18]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $50,506 in its first week.[19] It opened in Los Angeles the following week[1] and immediately expanded to another 12 cities.[20] It reached number one at the US box office in its eighth week of release.[21] Due to its large budget and disappointing returns, Paramount took an initial write-off of $11 million; however, the film performed better during the summer of 1970 and they reversed around $6 million of the write off.[22] The film became Paramount's sixth-largest success up to that point (and the seventh highest-grossing film of 1969); over its release, it grossed $31.6 million, although the earnings never offset the cost of production and marketing.[23]


Marvin's rendition of "Wand'rin' Star," accompanied by the film's choir, became a number one hit in the UK.[24] His voice was described by Jean Seberg as "like rain gurgling down a rusty pipe". Interviewed on NPR, Marvin said that the song was a hit in Australia, and someone there described it as "The first 33⅓ recorded at 45."


  1. ^ a b c Paint Your Wagon at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. ^ "PAINT YOUR WAGON (A)". British Board of Film Classification. November 6, 1969. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Hughes, p. 92
  4. ^ "Box Office Information for Paint Your Wagon". The Numbers. Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  5. ^ Variety film review; October 15, 1969, page 15.
  6. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 281. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  7. ^ Medved & Medved 1984, p. 154.
  8. ^ Medved & Medved 1984, p. 154-156.
  9. ^ a b c Medved & Medved 1984, p. 156.
  10. ^ Munn, p. 75
  11. ^ Dunaway, Faye (1995). Looking for Gatsby. Simon and Schuster. p. 183. ISBN 0671675265.
  12. ^ Farrow, Mia (1997). What Falls Away. Random House Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 1984800116.
  13. ^ My Life as a Mankiewicz. University Press of Kentucky. 2012. p. 75. ISBN 978-0813136165.
  14. ^ "Interviews with Actors and Filmmakersinterviews with Actors and Filmmakers". February 18, 2016.
  15. ^ Sterritt, David (November 25, 2014). The Cinema of Clint Eastwood: Chronicles of America. Columbia University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-231-17201-1. Retrieved June 18, 2021.
  16. ^ Medved & Medved 1984, p. 159.
  17. ^ Medved & Medved 1984, p. 157-158.
  18. ^ "Paint Your Wagon". Rotten Tomatoes. 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2024.
  19. ^ "'Wagon's' Advance Sale". Variety. October 29, 1969. p. 8.
  20. ^ "New York Soundtrack". Variety. October 29, 1969. p. 26.
  21. ^ "50 Top-Grossing Films". Variety. December 17, 1969. p. 11.
  22. ^ "G&W Painted 'Wagon' Too Red; B.O. Cuts Loss". Variety. October 21, 1970. p. 3. Retrieved April 2, 2024 – via Internet Archive.
  23. ^ Hughes, p. 94
  24. ^ "All The Number 1 Singles > 1970's". The Official Charts Company. Retrieved February 26, 2010.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]