A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The fact is, "Paint Your Wagon" doesn't inspire a review. It doesn't even inspire a put-down. It just lies there in my mind -- a big, heavy lump. But in the midst of it, like a visitor from another movie, Lee Marvin desperately labors to inject some flash and sparkle. And he succeeds in bringing whole scenes to life. A good actor can do this, but it's a waste when he must.
The problem was money. It always is in these inflated big-budget musicals. "Paint Your Wagon" cost around $18,000,000, and there is probably no way to spend that much money on a musical and retain any degree of intimacy and feeling. The logistics forbid it. You just can't get all those production values (the scenery, the sets, the cast of thousands) onto one movie screen and still operate on a scale suitable to your human characters.
And so Lee Marvin comes whooping into town with a wagonload of kidnapped French Prostitutes, and he steers the wagon right down the middle of the river, and hundreds of miners holler and race about, and what we're worried about is whether anybody got hurt in the confusion. And then the wagon stops and the chippies get off -- and it's supposed to be a gag that they're soaking wet and covered with mud. But the scale of the scene is such that by the time it was set up and the camera was finally running, the girls were dry.
The curse of overproduction even destroys the small, private scenes. Clint Eastwood wanders through the forest, singing (or, more accurately, whining) "I Talk to the Trees." And suddenly there's what sounds like the Red Army Chorus, booming in the background.