Working from a script by John Milius, Huston sketches the life of Judge Roy Bean, first as realism, then legend which becomes myth and ends as nostalgia. In other words, he presents a history of the West as it has evolved in life and art. Huston once said that, when he could not make a living as a painter, he turned to writing and directing films. His fine painter’s eye sees the story progressively as classicism, romanticism, impressionism, surrealism and finally elegy. Unlike most Huston films, its structure is fragmentary, on purpose. We begin with the sod hut that was to become a general store, bar, civic center, and courthouse for “The Law West of the Pecos”; in time a palace of hallucination and eventually a museum where the tidied-up life of Bean is shown to visitors.
Critics had been down on Huston for several years, and after applauding his Fat Cityin 1972, saw _ The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean_ as a resumption of his decline.
The film is full of episodes, each more outrageous than the last. Bean takes up with a huge bear; he hangs a photographer who angers him; he blows daylight through the back of Albino Bob; he has a child by a Spanish girl. Other episodes involve Anthony Perkins, Tab Hunter, Ned Beatty and Huston himself. The child grows up to be a spunky daughter played by Jacqueline Bisset not unlike, in spirit at least, Huston’s own daughter Anjelica, and Bean comes to her aid, out of a whirlwind, as it were, when thugs and oilmen take over the town he built.
And of course, the thread that holds the film together is Bean’s romantic love from afar for the great late 19th, early 20th Century beauty: The Jersey Lily, Lily Langtry. Bean never manages to meet his love, but many years after he has disappeared, Lily is touched, when, on a tour of Bean’s town, she is shown his unsent letter to her in the bar-courthouse-museum.
Screenwriter Milius, who had wanted to direct and stayed on location during the filming, complained his “gritty” script had been ruined by what he saw as Huston’s sentimentalism. Huston, himself, said the film reminded him of stories his grandmother told him about her husband John Gore, who spent wild years in the Oklahoma Territories as a drunken judge and, later, a sober saloon keeper. In Laurence Grobel’s The Hustons, John Huston is quoted as saying of the film: It seemed to reflect the old American Spirit that was capable of doing so many unlikely things. There was a breadth and generosity and a carelessness about it that I fostered in the picture. It was an allegory, and the vengeance of the past interested me. My Grandfather would have been quite capable of coming back and destroying a place the way the judge did. I loved the audacity of the film. Full of gallows humor and chapter on chapter of Tall Story, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a Farewell to the Old West. —Epinions.com
Adventure in many forms is the theme of many of John Huston’s films. His characters are constantly searching for “the stuff that dreams are made of” (the famous closing-line of his debut film The Maltese Falcon). Huston glorified this chase despite its frequent disillusionment and false promise, since it represented a flight from the complacent virtues of ordinary life. Like Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad, Huston regarded civilization as a false surface which thinly veiled a hostile nature. Only those who lived at the edge, on the margins of society were regarded by Huston as fellow travellers. In films as diverse as The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle and Under the Volcano, Huston celebrated men who circled the abyss; characters who are driven to plunge head first into the void.
The son of the great theatre and film actor Walter Huston (who would win an Oscar under his son’s direction for his role in The Treasure of Sierra Madre) and crime journalist Rhea Gore… read more
John Huston directed this irreverent western farce that's both a raucous send-up of Hollywood western conventions and an offbeat ode to an America past. The all-star cast is universally in top comic form, aided in no small part by a strong, sharp screenplay by John Milius. Another classic from Huston.