Updated: Oct 12, 2018
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION"
Blu-ray, DVD; 1972; PG for violence and language; streaming in SD resolution Amazon Prime, Vudu
Best extra: None
ONCE THE most popular kid on the block, Westerns began to nosedive in the 1960s.
“The Magnificent Seven” (1960) was one of the last great classics. It’s still a favorite today, but the basic good vs. evil stories took a beating during the decade of Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War protests. Then Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, beginning with “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), sparked new storylines in which good guys rarely – if ever – appeared.
Other films, like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford blended contemporary nuance with traditional themes. The biggest change – bad guys were no longer all that “bad,” good guys no longer squeaky clean.
“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” directed by John Huston (“Chinatown,” “The African Queen,” “Key Largo”), starred Butch Cassidy himself, Paul Newman. Newman read the script when it was sent to actor Lee Marvin, and became enthused. Script writer John Milius, who would go on to pen “Apocalypse Now,” “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Wind and the Lion” and HBO’s “Rome,” wasn’t happy.
In his biography, Huston would recall nights spent with Milius at the Arizona location shoot, where they rewrote the script churning out new ideas. Milius’ memories weren’t that happy. He had hoped to direct “Roy Bean,” but that was not to be. Even so, he hadn’t written a comedy, dark or otherwise. Milius felt Newman was wrong, too “cutesy pie” for the part. “‘Judge Roy Bean’ has been turned into a Beverly Hills Western,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
A cheery pop tune, “Marmalade, Molasses and Honey” sung by “Moon River” crooner Andy Williams, was inserted mid-way through, much like “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” in “Butch Cassidy.” Milius must have ground his teeth to stubs.
The movie starts out fierce enough, with a written narrative playing over a map of Texas: “Near the turn of the last century the Pecos River marked the boundaries of civilization in western Texas. West of the Pecos there was no law, no order, and only bad men and rattlesnakes lived there.”
Newman’s not-so-bad outlaw Roy Bean rides up to a tumbledown bar hoping for a drink and company under the opening notes of Maurice Jarre’s original score. But the desperados and whores are of the worst kind. They beat him, rob him, tie a noose around his neck, fasten it to Bean’s horse and send him off.
Roy Bean doesn’t quite die. A pretty, young senorita, Maria Elena played by a young Victoria Principal, rescues him. Enraged, Bean returns to the bar, kills the outlaws and runs off the whores. Then decides he is now the bastion of justice West of the Pecos, becoming the legendary hanging judge. An outlaw gang arrives to become Bean’s deputies. Hanging provides the town with an ever increasing income. All begin to prosper.
“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” is an episodic tale peppered with cameo performances by Hollywood’s best. “Psycho’s” Anthony Perkins inspires Bean as the Rev. LaSalle. Ned Beatty runs the bar, offering Bean advice. Tab Hunter plays a killer hung by Bean, who sees nothing wrong in murdering anyone who isn’t white. Stacy Keach shows up as Bad Bob, a crazed, albino sharpshooter out to kill Bean. Roddy McDowall is legal con man Frank Gass; Anthony Zerbe, a hustler who robs Bean of his chance to meet legendary singer Lily Langtry, Bean’s obsessive crush played by Ava Gardner, and Jacqueline Bisset plays Bean’s daughter, Rose. Huston himself steps into a scene as Grizzly Adams, who leaves his “son,” a beer-guzzling grizzly bear, to Bean.
Don’t expect “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” to make much sense. It waffles between tall tale and dark humor, but, boy, does it entertain!
Like other remastered films from the Warner Archive Collection, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” looks good in its new 2K restoration. Film grain is heavy throughout, lending the picture a storybook atmosphere. A warm palette relies on a mix of gold, brown and red, with a bold slash of blue and green. Overall detail looks intentionally soft, but the clean-up and repair of scratches, dirt and burns is very good.
The original mono mix has been cleaned and upgraded to a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Dialogue comes through clearly, with gunfight and action sequences slightly immersive. As noted, music is by Oscar-winner Maurice Jarre, composer of soundtracks for “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Ghost” and “I Dreamed of Africa.”
“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” never set critics or fans on fire. In short, it was a flop. We’ve got to imagine what it might have been under Milius’ direction. Still, as a dark comedy and showcase for stars of yore, it has appeal – so bad it’s actually good.
- Kay Reynolds