The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
|The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean|
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
|Directed by||John Huston|
|Produced by||John Foreman|
|Written by||John Milius|
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Edited by||Hugh S. Fowler|
|Distributed by||National General Pictures|
An outlaw, Roy Bean, rides into a West Texas border town called Vinegaroon by himself. The customers in the saloon beat him, rob him, toss a noose around him and let Bean's horse drag him off.
A young woman named Maria Elena finds and helps him. Bean promptly returns to town and shoots all those who did him wrong. With no law and order, he appoints himself judge and "the law west of the Pecos" and becomes the townspeople's "patrone." A traveling preacher, LaSalle, buries the dead.
Bean renames the saloon The Jersey Lilly and hangs a portrait of a woman he worships but has never met, Lillie Langtry, a noted actress and singer of the 1890s. When a band of thieves comes to town (Big Bart Jackson and gang members Nick the Grub, Fermel Parlee, Tector Crites and Whorehouse Lucky Jim), rather than oppose them, Bean swears them in as lawmen. The new marshals round up other outlaws, then claim their goods after Bean sentences them to hang.
Dispensing his own kind of frontier justice, Bean lets the marshals hang a murderer named Sam Dodd and share his money. When a drunk shoots up a saloon, Bean doesn't mind, but when Lillie's portrait is struck by a bullet, the fellow is shot dead on the spot. A madman, Bad Bob, comes to town for a showdown, but Bean shoots him in the back. Prostitutes are sentenced to remain in town and keep the marshals company.
Maria Elena is given a place to live and fine clothes ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog. A mountain man called Grizzly Adams gives her and Bean a bear, named "Zachary Taylor" after the 12th President of the United States, but later renamed the "Watch Bear," as a pet. When a lawyer named Frank Gass shows up claiming the saloon is rightfully his, Bean puts him in a cage with the bear.
Bean goes off to San Antonio, leaving a pregnant Maria Elena behind and promising her a music box that plays "The Yellow Rose of Texas." In his absence, Gass and the prostitutes conspire to seize control of the town from the judge's hard rule. A dapper Bean tries to see Lillie Langtry's show, but it is sold-out. He is deceived by men who knock him cold and steal his money.
Upon his return, Bean finds that Maria Elena is dying following a difficult childbirth. He names the baby Rose after the music box's song. He also plans to hang the doctor, but Gass, who has been elected mayor, overrules him. Bean is sorrowful about losing Maria Elena and rides away. Gass brings in hired guns to get rid of Bean's marshals.
Years go by. Oil rigs have been built around the prospering town. A grown-up Rose is surprised one day to look up and find Bean has returned. A shootout follows. Bean, on horseback, chases Gass into a burning building, declaring "For Texas, and Miss Lilly!".
Some time later, a train pauses by the town. Out steps Lillie Langtry. She is told the story of Judge Roy Bean and his feelings toward her by Tector, the caretaker of the saloon, now turned into a museum. She concludes that he must have been quite a character.
- Paul Newman as Judge Roy Bean
- Victoria Principal (film debut) as Maria Elena
- Anthony Perkins as Reverend LaSalle
- Ned Beatty as Tector Crites
- Roddy McDowall as Frank Gass
- Jacqueline Bisset as Rose Bean
- Tab Hunter as Sam Dodd
- John Huston as Grizzly Adams
- Ava Gardner as Lillie Langtry
- Richard Farnsworth as Outlaw
- Stacy Keach as Bad Bob
- Michael Sarrazin as Rose's husband
- Anthony Zerbe as Opera House hustler who mugs Bean
- Mark Headley as Billy the Kid
- Frank Soto as Mexican leader
- Jim Burk as Big Bart Jackson
- Matt Clark as Nick the Grub
- Bill McKinney as Fermel Parlee
- Steve Kanaly as Lucky Jim
- Francesca Jarvis as Mrs. Jackson
- Karen Carr as Mrs. Grub
- Lee Meza as Mrs. Parlee
- Dolores Clark as Mrs. Lucky Jim
- Neil Summers as Snake River Rufus Krile
- June Towner as Dorothy Pilsbury
- Jack Colvin as Pimp
- Howard Morton as Photographist
- Billy Pearson as Billy the Station Master
- Stan Barrett as Killer
- Dean Casper as Hotel desk clerk
- Don Starr as San Antonio Opera House manager
- Alfred G. Bosnos as Opera House clerk
- John Hudkins as Man at Opera House stage door
- Ken Freehill as Bedfellow
- Duncan Inches as Man at Vinegaroon
- Rusty Lee as Tuba player
- Roy Jenson as Outlaw
- Gary Combs as Outlaw
- Fred Brookfield as Outlaw
- Bennie E. Dobbins as Outlaw
- Leroy Johnson as Outlaw
- Fred Krone as Outlaw
- Terry Leonard as Outlaw
- Dean Smith as Outlaw
- Margo Epper
- Jeannie Epper
- Stephanie Epper
- Barbara J. Longo
- Bruno as Zachary Taylor/Watch Bear
The film was based on an original script by John Milius, who hoped to direct. The script was sent to Lee Marvin who was making Pocket Money with Paul Newman; Newman read the script and became enthusiastic about starring. The producers were not keen on Milius directing and paid a record price to own the script outright - $300,000.
Milius later elaborated:
Judge Roy Bean has been turned into a Beverly Hills western. Roy Bean is an obsessed man. He's like Lawrence of Arabia. He sits out there in the desert and he's got this great vision of law and order and civilization and he kills people and does anything in the name of progress. I love those kind of people! That's the kind of people who built this country! That's the American spirit! And they say, 'What you've created is a reprehensible man. We've got to make him much more cute.' So they changed it from a Western about royalty and greed and power to a western where Andy Williams sings a song in the middle of the movie and the judge and his girl and a pet bear go off on a picnic. It's incredible. He goes on a picnic and sits on a teeter-totter. It's a movie about Beverly Hills people. About John Foreman and John Huston and Paul Newman.
Milius also said Huston "would explain what he was doing to me all the time. We had a strange relationship. He tortured me constantly, changing things and doing scenes, I thought, deliberately wrong. At the same time, he would explain his options and why he made the decision he made, right or wrong; or the different ways he could have done it. I watched the way an atmosphere was created on the set, watched the way he would respond to an actor resisting him and the way he dealt with an actor going along with him too easily. How he would deal with bad actors. I remember one time when he had someone he said was the worst he'd ever had, and I asked him, what do you do? And he said, "Not a damn thing, I have no idea." He just went back to his trailer."
Milius claimed the experience prompted him to go into directing "out of self defence and a desire to control".
"Watch Bear" was played by Bruno, an American black bear who had previously played the lead in the 1967-1969 CBS TV series Gentle Ben. Paul Newman thought that Bruno stole every scene in which they appeared together, an opinion shared by some reviewers.
"My God is Paul Newman a good actor," said John Huston. ""He's just marvelous in this picture. He's never done anything quite like this and yet he's caught something unique and original. The picture definitely says something about a spirit of the past. There's something uniquely American about the judge."
"I think we've got a hell of a picture," said John Huston. "I think it will be very popular. Of course I've been wrong before, but there's a grand sort of thing about it. The wind blows through it. The story is a complete departure from reality, a pure fantasy."
The film earned estimated North American rentals of $7 million in 1973.
Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that it "doesn't have much flow and keeps stopping and starting." Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film "so entertaining and so vigorously performed, especially by Newman in the title role, that its pretensions become part of its robust, knock-about style." Variety wrote, "The two-hour running time is not fleshed out with anything more than scenic vignettes, sometime attempting to recreate the success of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' with an Alan and Marilyn Bergman-lyricked tune and Maurice Jarre's music, sometimes attempting honest spoofing of western, and sometimes trying to play the story historically straight. The overkill and the undertone do it in." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two stars out of four and wrote, "Not the 'bawdy' gags, nor the 'Marmalade, Molasses and Honey' musical interlude sung by Andy Williams, can hide the essential flaw in Roy Bean: He is a blind, egotistical jerk who gets off by hanging people." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "Arguably overlong, arguably self-indulgent on occasion, 'The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean' is nonetheless happily as intent upon being fun as it is in being significant. As Bean, Newman may not seem quite dumb enough but is genuinely moving and has great authority. Surely his performance here is a high point in a notable career." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post declared the film "a big name bummer. I spent the better part of an exceedingly slow two hours fighting recurrent attacks of drowsiness ... The episodic structure is undermined by too many episodes that depend on crude jokes, dumb wheezes and gratuitous killing. As the scenes and the would-be 'colorful' characters flop and repeat themselves, one's interest begins to evaporate." Clyde Jeavons of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Now and again, thanks the choice of an episodic style and the use of an engaging crop of guest stars in cameo roles, there are glimpses of what might have been; moments when the film looks as if it might take off like Butch Cassidy or say something meaningful like Little Big Man ... But these are small oases in a large desert, and no matter how dismissive John Huston may choose to be about his film, it has the air of an elaborate mistake—overblown, tedious and over-emphatic."
- 1973 Academy Award for Best Original Song, nomination for the song "Marmalade, Molasses and Honey" (Maurice Jarre and Alan and Marilyn Bergman)
- 1973 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, nomination for the song "Marmalade, Molasses and Honey"
- 1973 Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer, Female, nomination for Victoria Principal
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