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The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean
Theatrical release poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Foreman
Written by John Milius
Starring Paul Newman
Jacqueline Bisset
Anthony Perkins
Victoria Principal
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Richard Moore
Edited by Hugh S. Fowler
Distributed by National General Pictures
Release dates
  • December 18, 1972 (1972-12-18)
Running time
120 minutes
Country United States
Language English
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 (at the height of his career, between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting). It was loosely based on the real-life, self-appointed frontier judge.[2]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
  • Awards 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


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."

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 come to town (Big Bart Jackson and gang members Nick the Grub, Fermel Parlee and Whorehouse Lucky Jim), rather than oppose them, Bean swears them in as lawmen. The new marshals round up other outlaws, then claim their money after Bean sentences them to hang.

Dispensing his own kind of frontier justice, Bean lets the marshals hang Sam Dodd and share his money. When a drunk shoots up a saloon, Bean doesn't mind, but when Lily's portrait is struck by a bullet, the fellow is shot dead on the spot. 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. As soon as lawyer 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 Lily 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, Gass is killed and a fire engulfs the saloon, where the burning roof collapses on Bean.

A train pauses by the town, a considerable time later. Out steps Lily Langtry. She is told the story of Judge Roy Bean and his feelings toward her. 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. Milius later said he liked John Huston but thought he completely ruined the movie.[3] He was angry at the casting of "cutesy-pie" Paul Newman and felt Warren Oates would have been more suitable.[4]

"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.[5] Paul Newman thought that Bruno stole every scene in which they appeared together, an opinion shared by some reviewers.[6][7][8]


The film earned estimated North American rentals of $7 million in 1973.[9]


See also


  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. ^ 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
  4. ^ Norma, L. B. (1973, Jan 28). Movies. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current File) Retrieved from
  5. ^ "Ronald Oxley, 46, Trainer of TV and Movie Animals, Dies." Los Angeles Times, Dec. 30, 1985, available online at, accessed May 19, 2015.
  6. ^ Madsen, Axel. John Huston: A Biography. Open Road Media, 2015, p. 248. ISBN 1504008588.
  7. ^ Anderson, George. "'Train Robbers' at Fulton, 'Judge Roy Bean' at Warner" (movie review), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 8, 1973, p. 7.
  8. ^ Billington, Dave. "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Some Life! Some Times!" (movie review), Montreal Gazette, Feb. 17, 1973, accessed May 19, 2015.
  9. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19

External links

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