“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972) - Sam Gall Movie Review Issue #39 Gem Mint 10.0

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

“The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean“ (1972)

Director: John Huston

Written: John Milius

Starring: Paul Newman, Victoria Principal, Ned Beatty, Ava Gardner

In Vinegaroon, Texas, former outlaw Roy Bean appoints himself the judge for the region and dispenses his brand of justice as he sees fit.

You might like this if you like: Paul Newman, John Milius, John Huston, Victoria Principal, Ned Beatty, Ava Gardner, WESTERNS, action, drama, romance, "Unforgiven" (1992),

This review is for the film. I'm currently reading the script and discovering it's a VERY different beast. I'm really enjoying the detail, backstory and mind of Milius' characters while reading. There's so much more poetry in Milius' writing than I see in most screenplays. I love that I get so much more and what I consider an entirely different experience from the finished film. Will share the link below as I highly recommend the read if you enjoyed the film or just enjoy Milius' writing like myself.

"The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972)

One of my favorite western films to date. Paul Newman as the mean, grizzled vet in "Judge Roy Bean" is a joy to watch. There's a romance to his character despite the brutality of the west/the times and his judgement. A romance in his dedication and strange duty he holds to himself that I can't help but commend. Though I'd still never want to live under Judge Roy Bean's rule. His admiration and care for Lily Langtry (the Ava Gardner character) comes through beautifully. One of the first things I noticed was the romantic lullaby that quickly became the theme of the film and used recently in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (2019).

Probably the thing that most impressed me was the expectation I had when I saw the BIG opening credits for "Ava Gardner". I was super excited but slowly began to realize as the film went on that she wasn't going to have the presence I thought she might and soon forgot about even seeing her name after the film picked up.

Victoria Principal (left) and Paul Newman (right) in "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972)

The real show stealer for me was Victoria Principal who played Maria Elena. The character I essentially thought Ava Gardner was going to play due to well... the fact that... just watch the movie! A new face for me, Victoria Principal shined in more ways than one. She could kick Paul Newman's ass and make his heart melt. She wasn't afraid of anything. I was so impressed that the filmmaker took a big name like Gardner and used her the way they did. I love when they do that.

The film felt darker, more in the vein of "Unforgiven" (1992). It has that grit of 70s, the screenplay even more than the film, which I adore. It's the beginning of an era of where westerns aren't afraid to show a complex, complicated antihero. One where they maybe aren't so perfect. It echoes the path Walter White goes down in AMC's "Breaking Bad". A man spiraling into chaos.

Paul Newman in "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (1972)

Amongst all it's violence and tough guy exterior it's got a romantic middle to it with a strange, but enjoyable flavor of humor. Almost slapstick at times. The one part that threw me off a bit, not because of story, was the bear. I'm not a fan of watching an animal be put through something that I KNOW didn't take ONE TAKE. I'm not a fan of animals being used for the sole purpose of entertainment. Especially bears. I don't want to know what it was like for that bear(s) on that set. The cages.. the treatment.. and I hope it wasn't drinking real beer. I know I'm coming at a 1972 film (that takes place in the 1890s) in the year 2020 which I realize is totally unfair but I can't help but talk about because I very much enjoy that the way animals are treated is not continued (at least as much) the way it was in film. I watch and review old films for their historical purpose, because I love the medium and because I love storytelling. Not because I love the way the film industry treated animals back in the day. I know no one's telling me I do but just incase anyone thought that when I gave this film a 10.0 review.

Back to the point, the film is an epic addition to the Western genre. Paul Newman in his later years tackles an exciting and fascinating character study through the mind of Huston and Milius. Action packed and character driven, this film only solidified my love for John Milius and the rest of the gang.

Written by Sam Gall on 08/18/20

CGC Grading: Gem Mint 10.0

Original Screenplay by John Milius (link to PDF):


Official Trailer:

Rent for $3.99 Buy for $5.99:

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