The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Paul Newman in Star-Studded John Huston Bio-Western of Hanging Judge Dispensing Frontier Justice
Warner Archive continues following leitmotifs with two recent releases of docu-dramas about nefarious types. A separate post on the DVD release of the 1965 bio-noir film "Young Dillinger" chronicles the progression of noted Depression-era gangster John Dillinger from lovestruck hick to hardened criminal. Our current topic is the exceptionally remastered Blu-ray of the 1972 bio-western "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean."
Paul "Butch Cassidy" Newman plays the titular self-appointed jurist, who brings law and other elements of civilization to the frontier west of the Pecos River in 19th-century Texas. Comparing that territory to the unsettled land beyond the Appalachian Mountains during colonial days a century earlier provides a good perspective. Fellow Hollywood royalty John Huston directs.
The recent (personally mourned) passing of matinee idol (and gracious man who thanks reviewers for interviews) Tab Hunter warrants discussing his cameo as killer Sam Dodd. Hunter largely is physically unrecognizable under the dirt, hat, beard, and long hair. He is even less recognizable playing a guy who richly deserves hanging. His moment in the spotlight in the form of a voice-over monologue that many characters get is one of the best in the film.
The Hunter connection extends to his real-life former secret boyfriend Anthony Perkins playing Rev. John LaSalle. Perkins utilizes his quirky persona well in portraying this frontier minister.
The overall theme of this movie seems to be that any similarity between it and the adventures of the real-life Bean are purely coincidental.
The following YouTube clip of a SPOILER-LADEN trailer for "Bean" nicely shows that westerns are much more than cattle stampedes and high noon showdowns.
"Bean" opens with a here come da judge moment in the form of the man of the two hours riding into Vinegaroon, Texas to provide his form of justice. His first case literally puts him in the position of judge, jury and executioner.
Newman soon better demonstrates his well-known gruff charm on settliung down a little bit in several senses of the word and setting up shop in the local saloon/brothel. He further makes this place a shrine to stage actress Lillie Langtry with whom Bean is obsessed.
The Langtry element is especially strong in one segment in which Bean travels to the big city of San Antonio to see her perform. She further has a perfect role in the epilogue that cleverly wraps up our story.
The early scenes also establish the unorthodox method that Bean uses to hire marshals. His issuing a judicial decision in what can be considered the Hos for Bros case has an element of the vintage television dramedy "Here Come the Brides." Future "Dallas" star Victoria Principal plays the booty call babe who becomes the lady of every evening after a form of shotgun wedding that involves a Mexican standoff.
Other exceptional casting has Roddy McDowall playing to type as perpetually uptight and peeved attorney Frank Gass with a valid claim on what essentially is an actual Beantown. Bean soon putting Gass in accommodations that only provide the bare necessities sets the stage for conflict that ultimately leads to a dramatic confrontation.
More fun comes via having Ned Beatty play barman/right-hand man/father figure Tector Crites. One spoiler is that none of the frontier justice that Bean dispenses includes making Beatty squeal.
Huston has a cameo as real-life historical figure John "Grizzly" Adams. The amazing on-screen chemistry between Huston and Newman makes their interaction one of the best scenes in the film. Adams becoming unbearable is a perfect touch.
Stacy Keach gets to play in the role of fictional psychotic gunfighter Bad Bob, He does make Tector squeal, and his literal calling out Bean for a showdown proves the truth of the saying "no guts no glory."
The combination of the richness of the copious source material and the talent of the "who's who" (and other stars) cast mentioned above is why "Bean" succeeds so well. The real Bean is larger than life, the wild west is the stuff of which fiction is still made of 150 years after this era, and Texas has an equally grand tradition of tall tales. This become actual gold in the hands of masters such as Huston and the worst form of fool's gold in the hands of one-trick ponies such as Seth MacFarlane, who rely on crude humor.