Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

Last night, I finally got around to watching The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, which I had DVRed back when it was on TCM as part of 31 Days of Oscar, that's how long ago it was. It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive, so I'm OK doing a full-length blog post on the movie. Unfortunately, I can't say the movie is worth watching.

Paul Newman is Roy Bean, who at the beginning of the movie rides up to a brothel in the middle of nowhere in west Texas, west of the Pecos River. He boasts of having robbed a bank, at which point the men and women in the brothel assault Roy and shake him down (literally) for his money, before putting a rope around his neck and having a horse drag him off to his death. Except that the rope snaps and Roy, tended to by Maria Elena (Victoria Principal), recovers. Obviously he wasn't happy with the way he was treated, so he goes back to the brothel and kills the people there.

He finds there was a law book in the brothel, so he turns the place into a saloon/court, calling himself the "Law west of the Pecos". People get brought into his court, and he sentences them to hang, with little or no rhyme or reason. Along the way, he acts like a complete self-righteous jerk, reminding me of the portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt in The Wind and the Lion. (The movie has one scene praising Roosevelt as the best president the country has had.)

Bean also has a thing for singer Lillie Langtry, even though he's never seen or heard her, there not being any movies or records for him to see or hear. But still, he just knows she's unbelievable beautiful and dammit, he wants to see her. This actually leads to Bean's downfall, as his rival Gass (Roddy McDowall) is elected mayor while Bean is away trying to see Langtry in San Antonio.

After Bean is forced out of town, there's a wholly fictitious sequence about the next 20 years ending in the 1920s; in fact, Bean died peacefully in 1903. But in the movie, Bean gets to return to take the town back from the evil Gass.

Sadly, I found the movie wholly unfunny. Paul Newman's Bean (to be fair, it's not Newman's fault, but that of the screenwriters) is, as I said above, a total jerk who shows no respect for the rule of law and is basically a self-centered totalitarian. And this is presented as a good thing; we're supposed to have sympathy for him and root for him. And the whole Lillie Langtry thing was overdone to the point that I didn't give a crap about Bean's creepy obsession. Apparently, the real-life Langtry did visit Bean's town (which had been renamed Langtry) after Bean's death; that's the closing scene in the movie and Bean is portrayed by Ava Gardner. In fact, a number of well-known actors get small parts in which they only appear in a couple of scenes. Anthony Perkins gets one scene when he's burying the original brothel people; Jacqueline Bissett shows up for the last third as Bean's daughter. But overall, I found this Roy Bean such an irritating character that I just wanted to smack him.

Perhaps you should judge for yourself, however; maybe you'll like the movie. There are enough reviewers on IMDb who do.

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