The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
1972 | dir: John Huston | 120 m
When I asked Cale for a list of western's off the top of his head that I could add to our "Western November" month, I was provided with a succinct list of verifiable classics of the genre. Near the top of the list though, was an exception, and with it, carried a bit of skepticism. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean was sandwiched between Shane and The Searchers, with a little note: "that's a weird one if you can get it." Well of course, I had to get it, and he was quick to follow up with another note: "I think you'll enjoy that one; it's a little off-kilter." None of the other films really warranted viewer discretion or recommendation, so it immediately shot to the top of my list and I took it in, without knowing anything about the film. I was quite very pleasantly surprised. This is the issue: I've neglected western's throughout my life, only taking in some of the modern ones (like Tombstone and more recently, Unforgiven) and never really had to bear any shame for it. Being hesitant to even begin a project of focusing a month on them was daunting, but I know it was time to take me out of my comfort zone; Judge Roy Bean was the perfect movie to do so.
As the film starts out, we're given some on-screen narration and an introduction scene that finds our Judge taking over a small community and declaring himself the law; it plays out a bit oddly, but I was intrigued regardless. As the title would suggest, we follow Roy Bean's life as he turns this small community into a prosperous outpost in the west, which doesn't exactly sound enticing but the film managed to capture me as soon as I figured out that the movie is mostly a comedy (it may have taken me too long to figure this out). Everything is done fairly tongue in cheek, with some absurdity thrown in and a dose of serious moments that had me thinking that my friend was absolutely right to put this at the top of the list of westerns to see.
Rating: 3.5 / 5