THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN REVIEWED
“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” ages so well. Paul Newman stars as the titular character who forcibly puts his stamp on a tiny Western town. Once a reckless bandit, he declares himself the Law West of the Pecos. After making himself the local Judge, he picks off the local competition. From there, he finds some savage criminals and makes them his deputies. You’ve got to admire a man like this, even though if most of the real life character’s life has become Western myth.
Director John Huston has a fun turn as an older Grizzly Adams. He helps Judge Roy Bean in his quest to force Roddy McDowall into a cage with a bear. Everyone has a good laugh, while I wonder something. John Milius is on record stating that Huston ruined his movie. The script was created for someone like Warren Oates to play the lead. Plus, the Oscar nominated Andy Williams song felt like it was forcing a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid moment into a film that didn’t need it.
While Milius made a film about an edge Western figure, Huston had made Lawrence of Arabia for the American West. So much of the movie fights against itself, as you can see the edgy aspects of Milius’s script. But, Huston wants you to feel like you missed an era by the end of the movie. When the Judge’s saloon becomes a museum, it feels like a glorified tomb. John Milius didn’t intend for this to happen.
Make no mistake, this is Warner Brothers ordering a classic director to make something pretty out of a script that intimidated them. The edgiest thing Huston does in the film is having Paul Newman get beaten and nearly hung by the townspeople. But, he wins them over with his trademark baby blue eyes and all is forgiven. In a way, Huston wanted a retread of George Roy Hill’s previous work with Newman. But, that damn script keeps finding ways to fight back to the surface.
Having not seen the film since its inclusion in WB’s Paul Newman Collection DVD set, I was stunned to see such struggle onscreen. What had been a fun western as a kid has now become an exercise in tone vs. context. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then I recommend picking it up.
- 1.78:1 1080p transfer
- DTS-HD 2.0 MONO