Paint Your Wagon
To judge from the high original list price, Paramount Home Video was still trying to balance the books on Paint Your Wagon for the reported 17 million dollars sunk into it in 1968-1969 (mostly from bringing a huge cast on an extended location shoot, plus commissioning new songs) when this DVD first appeared in 2001; as of 2004, however, the price had dropped and it became a more reasonable purchase. Over the years since the film's original release, viewers have had to endure decades of cropped, commercial-laden showings that stretched it out to nearly three-and-a-half hours; there was no chance to appreciate Paint Your Wagon's virtues, much less get to like the movie. That all changed with the release of this DVD, which restores the film's proper anamorphic Panavision aspect ratio (2:35:1) for the first time since its 1969 theatrical run (plus a lot of sharpness and rich color tone in the bargain), and it is adaptable to 16 x 9 widescreen monitors. It's now possible not only to appreciate the movie as a serious attempt at a more naturalistic kind of musical, but also to enjoy and avail oneself of the virtues of all of that expensive location shooting, better than at any time since the original release. Traditionalists can argue that the 1951 stage musical might have been better served onscreen by taking the approach of, say, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, but by 1969 audiences weren't going to take seriously any movie with singing matinee idols like Howard Keel or dancer/actors like Russ Tamblyn going through their paces in frontier settings. Watching Paint Your Wagon on this DVD, one becomes convinced that if the producers were going to make a movie of that musical in that era, they took the only way open to them. Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg are on such solid ground dramatically that they carry the movie, and Clint Eastwood is getting just good enough to keep up, and also to portray his rather lost, lonely, and vulnerable character convincingly, and his song segment is not bad -- it isn't what Gene Kelly or Russ Tamblyn would have done with it, but in the realistic context of this movie, it is good viewing today. Additionally, for the traditionalists, there are the big choral sequences and production numbers, plus the scenes with Harve Presnell (a veteran of one of the last studio-bound old-style musicals of the kind, The Unsinkable Molly Brown), who does wonders with "They Call the Wind Maria." In addition to an excellent film-to-video transfer, the producers have paid attention to the sound quality here. It's robust, to say the least, and mastered at a very healthy volume. The 164-minute movie has been given 18 chapters, which isn't really as much of a breakdown as it deserves since they mark off none of the songs by title, which is a serious oversight. Moreover, the chapter layout showcases the movie's one flaw, its sometimes slow pacing; the whole matter of the polyandrous relationship between Seberg's and Marvin's and Eastwood's characters doesn't even come up until chapter ten. The only bonus feature is the trailer, which is also a bit disappointing -- at the time of the DVD's preparation, Ray Walston was still alive, as were John Mitchum, Eastwood, and Presnell, so a commentary track would not be out of the question. The movie is a peculiar hybrid, and really a prodigious achievement during a period in which most big-budget musicals were dying on the vine (look at Doctor Dolittle, Camelot, and Star!), even if the music was partly eclipsed by the realism and the sheer size of the movie.