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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

The Soldier, the Farmer, and the Parson

Paint Your Wagon (1969) on IMDb

Plot Overview

In The Young British Soldier, Rudyard Kipling wrote of greenhorns:
When the 'arf-made recruit goes out to the East
'E acts like a babe an' 'e drinks like a beast.

The Newel brothers, Michigan farmers, are heading for greener California pastures in their wagon train when a wrong turn strikes one brother dead and the other brother rich. The surviving 'Pardner' (Clint East­wood)—“the decentest man I ever come across”—is eventually driven to drink by his ne'er-do-well new partner Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) and a Mormon wife, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg), they come to share.

Settling in dusty No-Name City—Population: male—with 400 unattached gold prospectors, they find that “it ain't … easy married to the only woman in these mountains.” They devise a solution reminiscent of school teacher Mercer's scheme, in March of 1864, to import Civil War widows into female-starved Seattle, as recorded by William Speidel (pp. 107–9):

Very telling about it is newspaper writer Jim Stevens's description of big business's solution:

One fine day a lumber schooner from San Francisco tied up at the sand­spit dock, and there appeared before the incredulous eyes of the hangers-on a marvelous parade. Down the gang­plank tripped a dozen white damsels, all dazzling in form-fitting bombazine frocks, french-heeled shoes, silk stockings, and the war paint of their profession. The parade, escorted by Pinnell, marched daintily on to Illahee——

Recovering from its first surprise and enchantment, Seattle whooped in jubilation, shook hands all 'round, and bellowed a new defiance at Tacoma. Again, stirring news grape­vined up the skid­roads into the deep timber … an over­whelming tide rolled into Seattle——

The arrival of the ladies from San Francisco was greeted with as much enthusiasm as the arrival of the Mercer Girls. But the objectives of the two sets of girls were different. The Mercer Girls came here to get married.

[Chief business owner] John Pinnel's girls did not.

They were professional and business women.

They knew their business and their profession was an old one.

No-Name City soon transforms itself into a roaring boom town (“This ain't Michigan; it's gold country!”) A parson (Alan Dexter) observing all the vice warns, “The Lord is gonna cause the earth to open and swallow up this evil.” They've scheduled a big fight between a bull and a bear on a Sunday. It's going to be one rough day on Wall Street (“Let's get out of here, I think this place is crooked.”)


This year (2018) three historical figures are honored on the same day; they can be represented in allegorical fashion by the soldier, the farmer, and the parson in “Paint Your Wagon.” Robert E. Lee's birthday is on Jan. 19, celebrated by certain southern states on the third Monday in January. Ben Rumson dons soldier's regalia to lead a group of calvary escorting a wagon load of painted-pretty ladies through dangerous Injun territory. Well, there weren't any Indians, and he led the girls the wrong way, but still one has to admire him for his sense of duty respecting the democrtaic will of his town. Some of my southern family still observe Robert E. Lee Day.

On Jan. 15 the Orthodox Church commemorates St. Sylvester. Made pope of Rome in a.d. 314, he was known for his abstinence, for his powerful knowledge of the word of God, and for his preaching against greed. In No-Name City the parson was the only man there who could keep it in his pants. His formulaic knowledge of the word of God, i.e. (1Tim. 6:9-10) “money is the root of all evil,” in a land where nobody else even reads the Bible gives credence to the adage: 'In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.'

Mrs. Fenty: “You should read the Bible, Mr. Rumson.”

Ben Rumson: “I have read the Bible, Mrs. Fenty.”

Mrs. Fenty: “Didn't that discourage you about drinking?”

Ben Rumson: “No, but it sure killed my appetite for readin'!”

Since my middle name is Sylvester, St. Sylvester is my patron saint, and I also find a person to admire in the parson.

Martin Luther King Jr's birthday is on Jan. 13, celebrated by our states on the third Monday in January whether they want to or not. MLK, although well known as a womanizer—the FBI used to tape his sexual escapades in his motel room and send copies to his wife—, we give him a pass for only acting like a man, as we see plenty of other examples in this movie. At any rate it seems to not have entered his mind that there was any­thing wrong with it, as in the movie:

Parson: “Ye godless jaspers! Who are ya? Freemasons? Rosicrucians? Heathen emissaries from the depths of Babylon? Boozers! Gluttons! Gamblers! Fornicators!”

Steve Bull: “Whassa fornicator?”

Haywood Holbrook: “I dunno. I ain't a religious man.”

Curioiusly, MLK—See his Letter From Birmingham Jail—objected to what he was called as did Pardner not use his own name, both names beginning with an 'N'. But Ben Rumson says of the latter, “Sylvester Newel. Well, that's a good name for a farmer.” And the Bible says the Latin form at least of what we euphemistically call the 'N-word' is respectable for a teacher or prophet (Acts 13:1.) This good word would have been passed on to us way back when by Latin-speaking St. Sylvester more familiar with Acts than was MLK.

A bigamous marriage in the movie finds its parallel in MLK's plagiarism that came to light when his widow was donating his speeches to posterity. A woman is not supposed to have two husbands, and a literary work is not supposed to have two separate authors. Rumson was willing to share his wife with Pardner, and authors of various works suffered MLK to claim credit. This was fine for the wild west, but when a Pennsylvania family came to stay with them, they couldn't accept that Elizabeth had two men, so she had to pretend it was just one, but which one?

In Ernest Poole's book His Second Wife, the new wife laments about, “a Joe she had never known, shaped and moulded by the wife who had him in those early years when a woman can do so much with a man, can do what sets him in a groove in work and living, tastes, ideals” (127). Elizabeth didn't have either of her men in their early years to mold them. Rumson her first, her legal husband, is a self-described “wandering star”, but her second, illicit one is a farmer. She is a home­body. Whom do you think she is going to stay with? Similarly, the original authors of MLK's speeches seem to be lost to history while the plagiarist attaches his credit to them. And we're all okay with that, because he was such a great speaker; the speeches suited him. Only good-hearted people in the know would object.

MLK's plan to redistribute the wealth of society finds its parallel in the golden trickle-down plan that under­mines the gold town. Out in the freedom-loving west where I live, we can admire his audacity a little even if we object to the rest.

Production Values

This Western gem, “” (1969), was directed by Joshua Logan. Its screenplay was written by Paddy Chayefsky. The musical numbers were composed or lyrics written by Frederick Loewe, Andre Previn, and Alan Jay Lemer. It was adapted from the L&L play that ran on Broadway, 1951–1952. It stars Lee marvin, Clint East­wood, Jean Seberg, and Harvey Presnell. Lee Marvin gave a strong performance, the rest of the cast adequate, and East­wood good for a starting career.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for thematic material. It was filmed in Baker, eastern Oregon, USA. It clocks in at 158 minutes with an intermission. The music worked well for male choruses and an occasional female voice. The color and scenery are marvelous.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie suffers from being overly long; other than that, they did a bang-up job of it. The town was every­thing you'd hate for all its vice, but its characters were lovable, if some­what dimwitted. It would be a good movie on many levels if you've got the time to kill.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Not modern technology. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Poole, Ernest. His Second Wife. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1918. Print.

Speidel, William C. SONS of the PROFITS, or, There's No Business Like Grow Business! The Seattle Story, 1851–1901. Seattle: Nettle Creek Publishing Co., 1967). Print.