A no account outlaw establishes his own particular brand of law and order and builds a town on the edges of civilization in this farcical western. With the aid of an old law text and unpredictable notions Roy Bean distinguishes between lawbreakers and lawgivers by way of his pistols. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
When Bean visits San Antonio to see Lilly Langtry several steel drums are visible in the alley behind the theatre that are of a design not available until the early 1930s. See more »
Judge Roy Bean:
[talking to Maria Elena]
Maybe you can explain to these people here that I mean them no harm. Tell 'em it's going to be a new place. It's going to be a nice place to live. I'm the new judge. There will be law. There is going to be order, progress, civilization, peace... Above all, peace. And I don't care who I have to kill to get it. Now go on, you tell 'em that.
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During the early 1970's the Western was going through a period of harsh realism that presaged its reduction as a major Hollywood vehicle. Today, Westerns are few and almost always relegated to the the panoply of networks that offer 'alternate fare'. John Huston was an aging director who was loosing some of his skills, but not his focus on what a film could do. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a misunderstood masterpiece because it is a man's love story set in a sprawling, unforgiving, and wild environment. A man in love, especially Newman's pretentious, grim avenger of an unbridled raw justice, is that stark that you neither know weather to stare in disbelief or laugh out loud (I did the latter). The entire story is an unkempt tale with a plethora of twists that serve to amuse and mark time rather than add pathos. But, this was the West's oeuvre of desperation. Huston employs the storyline, characters and pace to reiterate a distinct lack of order constantly: nothing about this tale was to be tidy. All abstractions were to reflect chaos, except a man's uswerving elevation when he keeps his focus on a true love greater than himself.
Bean never meets the object of his affections, the famous Nineteenth Century American performer, Lilly Langtry, but carries a torch from afar for over three decades. All of his deputies, in one form or another are flawed characters. The reformed whores, who become the deputies' wives, are seen as mendacious and the Judge clumsily, but hilariously challenges them and, looses.
His long disappearance and reappearance to retake the mantle of righteousness against a bustlingly, but exploitive corporate oil baron(s) is a reassertion of his innate sense of justice. It also serves as a tool for Newman, Huston, and Milius to prod American Big Business, especially the oil companies.
This rambling tale comes together only when Ms. Langtry (portrayed by aging Ava Gardner) arrives at Langtry, Texas and reads the letter the Judge wrote on his last night. The tone is subdued, but in an elegant Nineteenth Century prose, conveys a timeless affection that provides the only 'bow' that this package gets and it is very good.
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