The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

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The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byJohn Foreman
Written byJohn Milius
StarringPaul Newman
Jacqueline Bisset
Anthony Perkins
Victoria Principal
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyRichard Moore
Edited byHugh S. Fowler
Distributed byNational General Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1972 (1972-12-18)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$16,530,578[1]

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a 1972 American western film written by John Milius, directed by John Huston, and starring Paul Newman. It was loosely based on the life of Judge Roy Bean.[2]


An outlaw, Roy Bean, rides into a West Texas border town called Vinegaroon by himself. The customers in the saloon beat him, rob him, toss a noose around him and let Bean's horse drag him off.

A young woman named Maria Elena finds and helps him. Bean promptly returns to town and shoots all those who did him wrong. With no law and order, he appoints himself judge and "the law west of the Pecos" and becomes the townspeople's "patrone." A traveling preacher, LaSalle, buries the dead.

Bean renames the saloon The Jersey Lilly and hangs a portrait of a woman he worships but has never met, Lillie Langtry, a noted actress and singer of the 1890s. When a band of thieves comes to town (Big Bart Jackson and gang members Nick the Grub, Fermel Parlee, Tector Crites and Whorehouse Lucky Jim), rather than oppose them, Bean swears them in as lawmen. The new marshals round up other outlaws, then claim their goods after Bean sentences them to hang.

Dispensing his own kind of frontier justice, Bean lets the marshals hang a murderer named Sam Dodd and share his money. When a drunk shoots up a saloon, Bean doesn't mind, but when Lillie's portrait is struck by a bullet, the fellow is shot dead on the spot. A madman, Bad Bob, comes to town for a showdown, but Bean shoots him in the back. Prostitutes are sentenced to remain in town and keep the marshals company.

Maria Elena is given a place to live and fine clothes ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog. A mountain man called Grizzly Adams gives her and Bean a bear, named "Zachary Taylor" after the 12th President of the United States, but later renamed the "Watch Bear," as a pet. When a lawyer named Frank Gass shows up claiming the saloon is rightfully his, Bean puts him in a cage with the bear.

Bean goes off to San Antonio, leaving a pregnant Maria Elena behind and promising her a music box that plays "The Yellow Rose of Texas." In his absence, Gass and the prostitutes conspire to seize control of the town from the judge's hard rule. A dapper Bean tries to see Lillie Langtry's show, but it is sold out. He is deceived by men who knock him cold and steal his money.

Upon his return, Bean finds that Maria Elena is dying following a difficult childbirth. He names the baby Rose after the music box's song. He also plans to hang the doctor, but Gass, who has been elected mayor, overrules him. Bean is sorrowful about losing Maria Elena and rides away. Gass brings in hired guns to get rid of Bean's marshals.

Years go by. Oil rigs have been built around the prospering town. A grown-up Rose is surprised one day to look up and find Bean has returned. A shootout follows. Bean, on horseback, chases Gass into a burning building, declaring "For Texas, and Miss Lilly!".

Some time later, a train pauses by the town. Out steps Lillie Langtry. She is told the story of Judge Roy Bean and his feelings toward her by Tector, the caretaker of the saloon, now turned into a museum. She concludes that he must have been quite a character.



The film was based on an original script by John Milius, who hoped to direct. The script was sent to Lee Marvin who was making Pocket Money with Paul Newman; Newman read the script and became enthusiastic about starring. The producers were not keen on Milius directing and paid a record price to own the script outright - $300,000.[3]

Milius later said he liked John Huston but thought he completely ruined the movie.[4] He was angry at the casting of "cutesy-pie" Paul Newman and felt Warren Oates would have been more suitable.[5]

Milius later elaborated:

Judge Roy Bean has been turned into a Beverly Hills western. Roy Bean is an obsessed man. He's like Lawrence of Arabia. He sits out there in the desert and he's got this great vision of law and order and civilization and he kills people and does anything in the name of progress. I love those kind of people! That's the kind of people who built this country! That's the American spirit! And they say, 'What you've created is a reprehensible man. We've got to make him much more cute.' So they changed it from a Western about royalty and greed and power to a western where Andy Williams sings a song in the middle of the movie and the judge and his girl and a pet bear go off on a picnic. It's incredible. He goes on a picnic and sits on a teeter-totter. It's a movie about Beverly Hills people. About John Foreman and John Huston and Paul Newman.[3]

Milius also said Huston "would explain what he was doing to me all the time. We had a strange relationship. He tortured me constantly, changing things and doing scenes, I thought, deliberately wrong. At the same time, he would explain his options and why he made the decision he made, right or wrong; or the different ways he could have done it. I watched the way an atmosphere was created on the set, watched the way he would respond to an actor resisting him and the way he dealt with an actor going along with him too easily. How he would deal with bad actors. I remember one time when he had someone he said was the worst he'd ever had, and I asked him, what do you do? And he said, "Not a damn thing, I have no idea." He just went back to his trailer."[6]

Milius claimed the experience prompted him to go into directing "out of self defence and a desire to control".[7]

"Watch Bear" was played by Bruno, an American black bear who had previously played the lead in the 1967-1969 CBS TV series Gentle Ben.[8] Paul Newman thought that Bruno stole every scene in which they appeared together, an opinion shared by some reviewers.[9][10][11]

"My God is Paul Newman a good actor," said John Huston. ""He's just marvelous in this picture. He's never done anything quite like this and yet he's caught something unique and original. The picture definitely says something about a spirit of the past. There's something uniquely American about the judge."[12]

Anthony Perkins had led a predominantly homosexual love life up until this film. During shooting he had an affair with Victoria Principal. He later married Berry Berenson.[13]

"I think we've got a hell of a picture," said John Huston. "I think it will be very popular. Of course I've been wrong before, but there's a grand sort of thing about it. The wind blows through it. The story is a complete departure from reality, a pure fantasy."[12]


The film earned estimated North American rentals of $7 million in 1973.[14]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  2. ^ Ford, Dan (30 May 1972). "Pure Fantasy of a West Texas Ulysses". Victoria Advocate.
  3. ^ a b Movies: Blood-and-Guts Milius at War With Hollywood Blood-and-Guts John Milius Strawn, Linda. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 5 August 1973: n18.
  4. ^ Segaloff, Nat, "John Milius: The Good Fights", Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Ed. Patrick McGilligan, Uni of California 2006 p 287
  5. ^ Norma, L. B. (January 28, 1973). Movies. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  6. ^ Thompson, Richard (July–August 1976). "STOKED". Film Comment 12.4. p. 10-21.
  7. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Milius Tackles a New Mountain Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 June 1975: e20.
  8. ^ "Ronald Oxley, 46, Trainer of TV and Movie Animals, Dies." Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1985, available online at, accessed May 19, 2015.
  9. ^ Madsen, Axel. John Huston: A Biography. Open Road Media, 2015, p. 248. ISBN 1504008588.
  10. ^ Anderson, George. "'Train Robbers' at Fulton, 'Judge Roy Bean' at Warner" (movie review), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 8, 1973, p. 7.
  11. ^ Billington, Dave. "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Some Life! Some Times!" (movie review), Montreal Gazette, February 17, 1973, accessed May 19, 2015.
  12. ^ a b Legend Tackles Legend: Huston, Judge Roy Bean Ford, Dan. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 May 1972: s1.
  13. ^ Mark Goodman, "One Final Mystery", People 28 September 1992
  14. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19

External links[edit]