Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Heavens Gate. Ishtar. Waterworld. Paint Your Wagon. Paint Your Wagon? Not so fast. Most film fans logically include Lee Marvin’s 1969 musical into the list of notorious big budget Hollywood flops, but does it really belong there? The production of the other aforementioned films certainly do as they were written about in great detail while they were being made and, once released, had the singular appeal of watching a car accident in slow motion. However, the same could be said of Apocalypse Now, Titanic and even Avatar. The difference of course being that the finished product proved all the naysayers wrong. It’s quite possible that a revised opinion is due for Paint Your Wagon, as well. I watched it again last night and while it’s true that the film’s plot is rather weak and the leads can’t really sing, in the final analysis, does that matter if the overall impact of the film is wildly entertaining? The production of the film is recounted in Lee Marvin: Point Blank by those who were there but the film itself still could be re-evaluted in the less harsh light of hindsight.
It was this thought that had me re-checking the reviews of the film when it was first released and the results were surprising. Of course all the critics mentioned the budget (both as an asset AND a deterrent) but the reviews were actually not nearly as scathing as the films reputation might suggest. Below are the actual reviews from 3 of the biggest trade reviewers of the time: The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The New York Times. As with most critics, though, they also find it neccessary to give away waaaay too much of the film’s content, a habit I abhor! The usually cranky Vincent Canby of the Times proved to be the most surpring of all. So, as Shakespeare would say, read on McDuff!….