The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, written by John Milius
The cast for this feature is stupendous – Paul Newman, Anthony Perkins, Ned Beatty, Jacqueline Bisset, Ava Gardner – the director is a legend – and he acts for a couple of minutes – but the result of the combination of this formidable talent is less than overwhelming.
Paul Newman has the leading role of Judge Roy Bean and he does all he can with a script that may have sounded humorous, interesting and worthwhile on paper, but as transcribed for the big screen it becomes a less than exulting mixture of feeble jokes and conflicting messages.
Roy Bean is a criminal in the first instance, who arrives in Vinegaroon, Texas, where he is robbed – there is no honor among thieves and most sayings are actually wrong, as our national philosopher stated- by the people he meets in a bar, men and quite a few fierce women
After they take all of his possessions, the mob ties the unconscious victim to a horse that drags him through the brush, where the gentle, generous Maria Elena, who saves him from death, revives him.
The hero is resurrected, returns to the bar with guns blazing, shooting maybe more than ten men and half that many women, who are later buried with the help of a travelling priest, Reverend LaSalle aka Anthony Perkins, who then disappears without a credible explanation from the scene.
Roy Bean transforms himself into the ultimate authority in the small place, justifying the title – Life and Times of the Judge – with the help of an old law book, out of which he takes pages off when he dislikes the text, and especially the pistols and eventually some companions.
Other outlaws arrive on the scene and they constitute with the judge a sort of a strange outfit, wherein they act as law enforcers, taking people in for the judge to pass sentence on, but in practice this is just an organized crime syndicate – well, its inception anyway – which takes money and valuables from travelers.
With time, the “judge” turns the small town into his own business enterprise, everything bearing his name, from the bar to the stables, from the barbers to the other facilities available.
He is challenged by Bad Bob aka Stacey Keach – and others – but the protagonist is a cunning man and he eliminates adversaries with humor, gusto and cynicism – in the case of Bad Bob, when the pistolero calls for a fight, the judge shoots him in the back, with a shotgun, from a considerable distance.
John Huston as Grizzly Adams comes to town, with Watch Bear in his wagon and after a confrontation with the ruler of the town and its surroundings, he leaves the animal behind and this becomes not just an inseparable companion, but the best friend and guardian of Roy Bean.
When he takes his girl, Maria Elena, out for picnics, Watch Bear travels in the back of the wagon, although it is difficult to understand how the horses did not panic and run amok, feeling the dangerous, deadly enemy just a few feet behind them…
The animal drinks incredible quantities of alcohol, beer mostly, but his presence in the film does not bring the merriment that the film makers may have expected, especially if one considers the methods that are mostly used to determine these wonderful beats to perform the tricks humans enjoy.
When a group of whores – called sex workers in the correct language of this age – arrives in town, the judge decides to marry them to his deputies, furthermore, he is the one who says who is the partner of what man, in a more than sexist approach – perhaps in line with what was happening at that stage in history.
The women would be aggravated later, when they are ordinary citizens and the same figure who had arranged for their matrimony is calling them whores and as a line of defense, he comes to them to state that he did not call them other insults…which comes out as very offensive and inappropriate for a script in 2018, but was written anyway in 1972.
Frank Gass, a lawyer and smart, cunning man arrives into the town controlled, owned by the hero, with a claim that is dismissed by the judge, who tears the pages from the law book that may suggest Gass could have a claim and he sets Watch Bear with the claimant in a cage.
The lawyer would become a vicious enemy, who hires a gunman to kill the judge, but the bear saves his master, paying this effort with his own life, making Roy Bean so depressed he condemned the animal for being silly enough to expire.
A monument is raised for the dead friend, the protagonist departs for the city to attend a performance by his favorite, cherished star, Lily Langtry aka Ava Gardner, but he is robbed and attacked by some crooks, which pretend they would offer access backstage.
When he returns, the former deputies have turned against their ex leader, electing Gass as mayor of the city, the hero rides into the wild, leaving his new born daughter, Rose Bean played by Jacqueline Bisset, with his friend and bartender.
If not altogether a major disappointment, this is a flawed movie, with some rather embarrassing scenes, such as the one where Lily Langtry arrives in Bean Town, a long, rather excruciating expose of useless material.