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Film / The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

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A 1972 Western written by John Milius, directed by John Huston, and starring Paul Newman, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean also marks the film débuts of both Victoria Principal and Steve Kanaly. Also in the cast are Ava Gardner, Jacqueline Bisset, Tab Hunter, Stacy Keach, Roddy McDowall, Anthony Perkins, and Anthony Zerbe.

Outlaw Roy Bean (Newman) rides into a West Texas border town called “Vinegaroon,” only to be beaten, robbed, have a noose tied around him and let Bean’s horse drag him off by the customers in the saloon. After he's found and helped by a young woman named Maria Elena (Principal), Bean builds a town on the edge of civilization in order to establish his own particular brand of law and order. Appointing himself judge, Bean dispenses justice until time and events pass him by.


  • Adaptational Heroism: The actual Roy Bean infamously held that while the law sentenced to death for murdering a man, it was nowhere stated in the law that Chinese was a man. In the movie, he sentences to death a man who makes the same argument.
  • Amoral Attorney: Played With, Gass is legally entitled to Roy's saloon, but Roy is having none of it. Later a man tries killing Roy and it's assumed that Gass hired him. He takes advantage of Roy's absence later on to become mayor and becomes a greedy Corrupt Politician.
  • And Starring: After all the rest of the cast is listed in alphabetical order, Gardner gets an "And Ava Gardner as Lily Langtry" credit, while Principal gets an "Introducing" credit right after that.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • Rev. LaSalle is introduced by his character looking straight at the camera and reminiscing about his first meeting with Roy Bean.
    • A mook (played by Tab Hunter) being led off to be hanged looks into the camera and explains how he came to this.
  • The Cameo:
    • Ava Gardner gets a prominent credit, and all the Lily Langtry posters are practically their own character, but Gardner as Lily only appears in the last five minutes of the movie.
    • Michael Sarrazin can be seen in the photograph of Rose's husband at the end of the film. (Sarrazin was Jacqueline Bisset's boyfriend at the time, and gets a "participation" credit for his quasi-appearance.)
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bad Bob arrives in Langtry and starts screaming horrifying threats about all the creative ways he's going to mangle, mutilate, and kill Roy. Finally he says "I'm ready!" Roy, who has been perched in a barn behind Bad Bob this whole time, calmly shoots him In the Back with a rifle.
  • Could Say It, But...: The whores whom Roy married off to his deputies are working overtime to be seen as respectable society matrons, and wind up being antagonists to Roy. They are enraged when Roy calls them whores and demand an apology. Roy apologizes for calling them whores. He then says "I did not call you callous ass strumpets, fornicatresses, or low born gutter sluts," but he did call them whores, and for that he is sorry.
  • Creator Cameo: John Huston plays Grizzly Adams.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Reverend Lasalle is the initial narrator and pov character during Bean's setting up the town, but leaves a very short ways into the film and mentions in his narration that he never saw Bean again and died of illness in Mexico some time later.
  • I Am the Noun: "I am the law" says Roy, and it's pretty much true, as he sets himself up as king of a little town.
  • The Joy of X
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Roy becomes this, proclaiming death sentences on outlaws, carrying them out, and using the money he takes from them to build his town.
  • Only Sane Man: Tector, who requests to be the bartender instead of a marshal to avoid being shot at, acts as a father of sorts to Roy's daughter and never really is manipulated by Gauss and the prostitutes.
  • Tagline: Two of ‘em –
    If this story ain't true . . . it shoulda been
    Maybe This Isn't The Way It Was - It's The Way It Should Have Been!
  • No Kill like Overkill: Snake River Rufus Krile is shot dead, tried by Bean, and then hanged.
  • Torso with a View: The audience is treated to a closeup of the hole Bean put in Bad Bob... as well as the buildings behind him.
  • Twilight of the Old West: About how law & order comes to the West... and then the corrupt businessmen following afterward...
  • Unrequited Love: Bean's obsessive love for actress Lily Langtry (who merely knows him as a somewhat eccentric source of letters), which proves his undoing as it distracts him from his faithful Maria and provides a chance for the corrupt Gass to takeover the town in Bean's absence.
  • Vigilante Man: Roy Bean, after nearly being killed by the inhabitants of a badlands bar and brothel. He follows up by becoming a "judge" and using his courtroom to keep his vigilante justice going, recruiting some former outlaws to be his Vigilante Militia.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: Roy draws a beard on his own wanted poster.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of the wives/prostitutes who help Gass throw out Bean is never shown.
  • The Wild West: The film takes place with plenty out outlaws and little order around.