I just watched The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. I remember vaguely it being very successful. And when I saw it was directed by John Huston, I thought I would give it a try. I should have looked closer.
Troubling signs occurred during the credits: written by John Milius. But I stuck with it. Right off, it looked like a dumb person’s idea of combining The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Of course, it was filled with Milius’ notions of romantic violence. But even apart from this, the film really misses. I like Huston as a director, but this didn’t work. He is no Hill, much less Peckinpah. This is material that just doesn’t work to his strengths. The action is too realistic and the comedy too broad. (It doesn’t help that Milius provided an episodic script filled with awkward, predictable violence and awkward, predictable comedy.)
It is interesting that Huston and Millius couldn’t create an interesting story for the film. After all, they had some interesting characters to work with: Roy Bean, Lillie Langtry, Grizzly Adams (although Adams has no actual connection to the real life story). I think, as is often the case in movies, they were just too in love with their idea.
Overall, the film looked good. The filming and art direction worked. But other than that, pretty much everything else is weak in this film. The score by Maurice Jarre is overbearing. The editing was stilted, but I figure this was because Huston didn’t provide sufficient coverage. The make-up even seemed wrong, although the women looked beautiful. To top all of this off, the acting was surprisingly bad. It seemed like everyone was having a good time, but no one seemed to be working—except for maybe Victoria Principal. (I also liked Anthony Perkins, although I have a soft spot for him.)
Perhaps I’m being unfair. When a film doesn’t work, all of the parts stand out as bad. For example, if the movie had been more engrossing, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the music. But there is no getting away from the fact that The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is almost a completely unwatchable film.