In Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe break out their vocal chops, singing their hearts out in Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical. Seeing these two men, better known for playing superheroes, boxers and Roman gladiators, bravely manhandling showtunes reminded us of another unlikely movie star taking on a singing role in an adaptation of a Broadway musical: Clint Eastwood.
Way back in 1969, Clint was reaping the rewards of playing the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Riding the crest of worldwide box office success, and with a reinvigorated career, the 39-year-old actor had completed a trio of macho films that were released in 1968 (Hang ‘Em High, Coogan’s Bluff, Where Eagles Dare), and then turned his attention to Paint Your Wagon.
Adapted by Paddy Chayefsky (!) from a 1951 stage musical, the film version starred Lee Marvin, with Clint second-billed, ahead of Jean Seberg. As “Pardner,” a young farmer and aspiring gold prospector, Clint sang several songs, including “I Still See Elisa” (to an imaginary girlfriend) and “I Talk to the Trees,” in which he walked in a forest and, er, sang to the trees.
The movie was a box office success, and Clint moved on to enjoy monster popularity as Dirty Harry, as well as in many other action-filled movies. And he eventually starting singing in movies again, even growling his way through the title theme of Gran Torino. But our favorite remains “Gold Fever” from Paint Your Wagon, featuring Clint giving an incredibly restrained performance, starting at a poker table and then striding uncomfortably around a bar. We keep expecting him to pull out his six-shooter and start firing away at the bad guys.