This somewhat obscure 1969 movie musical was based on the Broadway musical of the same name by Lerner and Loewe (the authors of Brigadoon and later My Fair Lady), with which it shares a number of characters and songs but not much plot. It was the last film to be directed by Joshua Logan and was adapted for the screen by Paddy Chayefsky.
The story takes place during the California Gold Rush. When a wagon crashes into a ravine, prospector Ben Rumson (Lee Marvin) rescues the surviving occupant (Clint Eastwood). The two form a partnership, and Ben dubs the survivor "Pardner". By the riverside where the wagon crashed, gold is discovered, and a boomtown called "No Name City" promptly crops up.
The population of No Name City is initially all-male, and the said men get horny. They are thus delighted when a Mormon with two wives rides into town one day. They convince him to sell one of them, Elizabeth (Jean Seberg), to the highest bidder. Ben, in a drunken stupor, wins the bid.
A cabin is constructed for Ben and Elizabeth and the two settle into a happy marriage. But the remaining men are still horny, and Ben starts to get overprotective of Elizabeth. So the men concoct a scheme to kidnap six prostitutes from a neighboring town. Ben heads the mission, leaving Elizabeth in Pardner's care. Whilst he is away, the two fall in love. When Ben gets back, the scheme a success, Elizabeth convinces him and Pardner to enter a polyandrous marriage with her.
With the abduction of the prostitutes successful, a brothel is established. Men come from miles around for a lay, and No Name City grows into a thriving town. Presently, a preacher named Parson arrives and decries all the gambling and hooking, claiming that God will make the earth swallow the town. As it happens, Ben and his cohorts dig a maze of tunnels beneath the town to collect the gold dust that falls through the floorboards of the buildings above. It looks like Parson might turn out to be correct...
This film provides examples of:
- Actor Allusion: "Pardner"'s real name is unknown to everyone until he is asked about it at the end of the film. This hints at Clint Eastwood's prior recurring role as "The Man With No Name"
- All Men Are Perverts
- Ambiguous Disorder: Ben has some sort of psychological issue (he says he sometimes gets "melancholy"), most likely bipolar disorder.
- Artistic Title: Featuring watercolor illustrations of the cast.
- Boom Town: No Name City.
- The Cassandra: The Parson's warnings about the town being swallowed up by sin come to literal fruition.
- Chivalrous Pervert: 'Mrs.' Rumson is treated with scrupulous respect even if the men do look at her like children at a candy display.
- City with No Name: Lampshaded with No Name City, though it was probably chosen to represent the countless Boom Towns and Ghost Towns left by the gold rush.
- Crowd Song: Most of them, actually.
- Deadpan Snarker: The town's resident sign-painter, clearly. No Name City moves from "Population: Male" when the town has no women to "Population: Drunk" when both women and whisky appear in sufficient abundance.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The film manages (with hilarious results) to contrast the looser or outright upended morals of a remote, sex-starved frontier settlement where the only law in operation is the "Mining Law" of recognized claims, and the strait-laced, puritanical morality of "respectable", Christian 19th century society... both of which contrast with the norms of more "modern" audiences, who are pretty much expected to roll with it. To the men of No Name, it seems perfectly reasonable to shrug their shoulders and, say, let a passing Mormon with two wives (not practiced by mainstream Mormonism today) auction off his "spare" wife to the highest bidder... and yet with their still-patriarchal values the idea of the same woman taking on another husband weirds them out even more, albeit our protagonists quickly accept the arrangement.
- Everything's Better with Cows: The golden calf and the bull.
- Fashion Dissonance: Very much averted with the local hippies who were used as extras for the film (this was made in The '60s, remember). Their clothes and hair were already so in tune with the Gold Rush aesthetic that they didn't even need costumes or makeup.
- Fast Tunnelling: Ben and "Mad Jack" effortlessly tunnel under No Name City to get at the hidden gold dust. It bites them in the ass as it leads to the city's eventual collapse.
- Forty-Niner / Prospector: Most of the characters.
- Girlfriend in Canada: Pardner admits that his "love" back East was made up.
- Gold Fever: The motivation behind most of the hilarity that ensues, especially for Ben Rumson.
- In Name Only: Only two characters from the stage musical appear in the film; furthermore, the plot of the film bears almost no resemblance to that of its stage counterpart.
- Marry Them All: Elizabeth suggests that Ben and Pardner both marry her once they realize they've both fallen in love with her.
- No Name Given / Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Ben's Pardner (until the end, anyway).
- No Woman's Land: No-Name City has no women in it until a Mormon arrives with his two wives.
- Polyamory: Well, they tried it, at least.
- Real Is Brown
- Settling the Frontier: the settling of No Name City.
- Soiled City on a Hill: No Name City
- Spared by the Adaptation: Ben, who dies at the end of the stage version.
- Wanderlust Song: "Wandering Star" in the graveltastic voice of Lee Marvin. "Elisa" and "They Call the Wind Maria" is a good counterpart to this, dealing with the loneliness of a wandering life.
- Welcome to Hell, Parson. No Name City, Population: drunk. (Even noted on the welcome sign: "The Hell-thiest Spot in the West".)
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn about the dark backstory implied by the scene of Elizabeth nursing the baby, proof that she's the baby's real mother. Did she perform a "handmaid" role by bearing a child to be claimed by the senior wife? Or did their Mormon husband simply lie about the baby's parentage to get rid of Elizabeth, the less favored wife? Alternatively did she also have a baby that died leaving her as wet nurse for the senior wife's baby?
- The movie explicitly states that her own baby died a short time back. It's most likely she was still milking when the other baby was born and became a second source of milk for it.
In answer to the above caption; yes. Roger Ebert compared the two movies too.