Paint Your Wagon


Street Date 3/26/24;
Kino Lorber;
$29.95 Blu-ray, $39.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic material.
Stars Lee Marvin; Clint Eastwood, Jean Seberg, Harve Presnell, Ray Walston, Tom Ligon, Robert Easton, H.B. Haggerty, John Mitchum, William Mims, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

A lot of big names hitched their stars to 1969’s Paint Your Wagon. Lee Marvin turned down The Wild Bunch to pick up the million-dollar paycheck Paramount dangled. Jean Seberg started off as the only woman in an all-male mining town and in spite of a polyamorous relationship with the two leads, there’s not much memorable about her character or performance. The third film released by Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Company revealed a musical side that would later return in Honky Tonk Man, Bird and the closing credits to Gran Torino. Though not the box office smash he’d hoped for, it played a major role in determining his future in film. The actor’s slack-jawed disbelief over the studio’s wild expenditures and incessant production stoppages helped to cement a permanent spot for him in the director’s chair. 

Rather than recognizing Lee Marvin’s valuable additions to Attack!, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or The Killers, the Academy chose to reward his drunken bull-in-a-western-China-shop performance in Cat Ballou. As great an actor as Marvin was, he had a pronounced lazy streak, as evidenced by his Oscar-winning turn as Kid Shelleen, cuddly inebriate. His performance as Ben Rumson was more of the same, only less. Playing a lush came natural to him, so it was only natural that he converted his addiction into Oscar gold. Marvin taints this wagon. The greatest insult thrown his way didn’t come from a reviewer, but from the film’s producer. Eastwood referred to this movie as Cat Ballou II. (Does that mean The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday was Cat Ballou III?)

Blake Edwards expressed interest in directing the big screen adaptation of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe’s Broadway musical comedy from 1951. Lerner produced and went with the more easily micromanaged Joshua Logan. It was a bad era for Hollywood musicals, with the walls of the studio system rapidly closing in. Edwards would go on to direct the equally sumptuous, albeit undeservingly ill-fated, Darling Lili. Logan’s flop hit the pavement like a 500-pound suicide jumper. Lili landed in style. Logan had previously directed the Hollywood version of Lerner and Lowe’s Camelot, and in spite of that Lerner offered him the job on Paint Your Wagon.

With the film set in California’s gold rush country in the 1850s, Logan was inspired by The Sound of Music to shoot on location. The crew headed to Oregon and, at great expense, spent seven months constructing a full-scale replica of a mining town. Everything was precise down to the last detail. The only thing they forgot to drum up was a plot. To think, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky took credit for this but had his name removed from Altered States.  

Marvin’s idea of method acting was simple: any glass, flask or bottle raised to his lips must contain hard liquor. A career drinker, the actor was sauced from fade-in to fade-out making Logan the perfect man to direct. No stranger to late onset on-set alcoholism, it was Logan who, along with Mervyn LeRoy, took over the reins on Mister Roberts after John Ford was sent to dry out for introducing his fist to Henry Fonda’s jaw. Logan’s sole bit of direction to Marvin appears to have gone something like this: “Play it however the hell you want.”

That said, this was my third viewing of the 154-minute grandstander. First sighting: the 70mm roadshow edition. Never one to pass up a dye-transfer Technicolor print — and knowing full-well that all 70mm prints were struck on Eastman-based stock — the Landmark Theatre I was managing in the early ’80s booked an IB print that went down smoother than a jigger of whatever Marvin was consuming. There’s not a bad shot in the film thanks to the premier team of cinematographers starting with camera operator David Walsh (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex …, The in-Laws) camera assistant Bobby Byrne (Blue Collar, Chilly Scenes of Winter), and Loyal Griggs (The Ten Commandments, In Harm’s Way), all united under the watchful eye of DP William A. Fraker (Rosemary’s Baby, Sharky’s Machine). The same can be said of other visually stunning, but narratively inert comedies along the lines of Catch-22 and 1941. This was a textbook example of a producer calling the shots, and Lerner was no Selznick.

Special features include a new audio commentary by Lee Marvin biographer Dwayne Epstein and screenwriter/author C. Courtney Joyner, and the theatrical trailer.


Fast Times at Ridgemont High


$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli.

The Criterion Collection’s new edition of the 1982 comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont high includes a sparkling new transfer of the film that goes a bit beyond the typical restoration.

The new 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Amy Heckerling, goes so far as to restore a scene of full-frontal male nudity of Robert Romanus during his sex scene with Jennifer Jason Leigh that was trimmed from the original version in order to avoid an ‘X’ rating. It’s not a new scene added back into the film — the theatrical version simply zoomed in to avoid showing off too much of Romanus. The Criterion cut simply restores the original framing.

In addition to a printed essay booklet by film critic Dana Stevens with an introduction by screenwriter Cameron Crowe, the primary new extra on Criterion’s Blu-ray is a 35-minute interview about the film with Heckerling and Crowe moderated by actress and filmmaker Olivia Wilde, who discuesses how much Fast Times influenced her in making Booksmart.

The Blu-ray also includes the television edit of the film, which adds in a few deleted and alternate scenes to run about five minutes longer than the theatrical cut.

Legacy extras carried over from Universal’s earlier home video releases include a 1999 commentary from Heckerling and Crowe; the 40-minute “Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High” retrospective from 1999, featuring interviews with cast and crew; and a 47-minute audio discussion with Heckerling conducted at the American Film Institute in 1982.

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