Monday, February 03, 2014


In the 1880s there was no law and order in Texas, west of the Pecos River; as we are told, "Only bad men and rattlesnakes lived there." Outlaw Roy Bean arrives at the tiny village of Vinegaroon in the middle of the desert and finds a shabby little shack filled with whores and drunkards. When he sees a book of the laws of Texas in the room, he asks why it's there. "For the whores to piss on," is the reply. The outlaws promptly beat him up, tie him to his horse, set the horse running, and leave him for dead, but a young Mexican woman who lives nearby saves his life, and he goes back and shoots everyone in the whorehouse dead. Bean then decides to be the law west of the Pecos and sets himself up as a judge in the shack. The rest of this episodic movie presents his adventures as he recruits former bad guys to be his deputies, meets up with Grizzly Adams who, preparing to die, gives Bean his beloved pet bear, and sets out to see the famous actress Lily Langtry, with whom he is obsessed—he shoots a drunkard dead who had the gall to deface a poster of her that hangs in his shack. "For Texas and Miss Lily" becomes his battle cry.

This comedy-western, directed by John Huston, has a certain ramshackle, tall-tale, all-over-the-map likability, though at two hours, it goes on a bit too long. There's not much substance to Roy Bean (based on a real person) but Paul Newman holds the screen with authority, making his character charming even when he’s taking his brand of justice too far. The supporting cast is fun, with most members popping up for one or two short scenes: Anthony Perkins (pictured above with Newman) is an itinerant preacher who at one point talks directly to the camera; John Huston, who directed, cameos as Grizzly Adams; Stacy Keach is Bad Bob, a freaky albino killer; also appearing are Tab Hunter, Ned Beatty and Jacqueline Bisset. Roddy McDowell has a more substantive role as a city-slicker lawyer who becomes Bean's primary nemesis, and Ava Gardner gives the movie a touch of class at the end as Langtry. You can see this was aiming to be another BUTCH CASSIDY, especially with the tacked-on-feeling romance between Newman and his Mexican savior (Victoria Principal in a thankless role)—there's even a song, "Marmalade, Molasses and Honey," sung by Andy Williams, played over a pastoral picnic scene with Newman, Principal, and the bear, but it's not a patch on the ass of "Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head." Still, a generally enjoyable example of freewheeling 70s cinema. [DVD]

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