The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)




Director:     John Huston

Starring:    Paul Newman (Judge Roy Bean), Ava Gardner (Lilli Langtry), Victoria Principal (Marie Elena), Jacqueline Bisset (daughter Rose Bean), Anthony Perkins (Rev. Mr. La Salle), Tab Hunter (Sam Dodd), John Huston (Grizzly Adams), Stacy Keach (Bad Bob), Roddy McDowall (lawyer Frank Gass), Ned Beatty (bartender), Richard Farnsworth (outlaw).

Paul Newman as Judge Roy Bean (1827-1903) plays the role of the self-appointed judge with a tongue-in-cheek attitude.  It is said that the Judge was the only law west of the Pecos River in Texas. He was located along the Rio Grande River in the rugged Chihuahuan Desert.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

West Texas.  Roy Bean rides to the post office on his horse and goes inside.  He sees an wanted poster for the Apache Kid, but the one he is interested in is the Baldy Mitchell Gang.  He draws in a mustache and a beard for the photo of R. Bean.  On another man, who is dead, he crosses out the name and marks "daid" for dead.  The reward is for $200 of any gang member.  They are wanted for bank robbery, suspected rape and murder. A mustached and bearded R. Bean enters a bar where almost all the patrons look like they are just about to fall asleep.  It is really quiet in there.

Bean goes up to the bar and asks for a whiskey.  He says his photo is outside on the wall and he just got through with robbing the Granger's Trust in Magdalena.  He is met with complete silence, so he says:  ":I always heard that a man on the dodge is welcome west of the Pecos.  Maybe I heard wrong."  The owner says:  "You heard right."   The bar maids all gather around Bean, hit him with a pistol, turn him upside and shake him until all his money has fallen out of his pockets.  Then they take him outside, put a rope around his neck, tie the rope to a horse and start the horse running. 

In the night a Mexican girl finds him.  In the morning she brings him a pistol. Soon Roy Bean comes into the saloon firing his weapon and killing or wounding person after person.  The Mexican girl watches the whole thing from her hiding position.  He then waits outside the saloon for the arrival of any others who had a hand in dragging him across the countryside. 

A man comes up riding a burro and leading another.  He tells Bean that he is the Rev. Mr. La Salle.   He looks around and sees a lot of dead bodies.  Bean says he killed all of the dead for trying to hang him.  He adds:  "They were bad men and the whores weren't ladies." 

The reverend digs a lot of graves for the dead, while Bean reads a law book for the state of Texas.  The reverend asks Bean what is his name?  Bean says his name and says he is Judge Roy Bean.  "I am the new law in this area."    After the dead have been buried, the reverend reads a passage from the Bible.  Bean asks where is the Mexican girl?  She comes forward from a group of Mexicans.  She says her name is Marie Elena.  Bean thanks her for her help.  Then he asks her to tell her people the he is a new judge and there will be law and order and peace and he doesn't care who he has to kill to get it. 

Bean tells the people that they can have the land, the horses and the weapons of the recently deceased. The people, however, do not want the land or the guns.  They just want the horses.  And they expect Bean to be their new patron.  Bean himself takes possession of the old saloon and will make it a courthouse. Marie Elena says she wants to live in the courthouse with Bean.  The reverend suggests that she could live in the little shack off to the side of the courthouse.  Marie Elena agrees to this arrangement.

Bean opens his court house and saloon.  He has a big sign saying the law west of the Pecos River and a saloon he named the Jersey Lilly for Lilli Langtry.  He puts up a huge photo of her behind the bar. 

The villagers start to hide.  Bean sits in a rocker with his rifle across him covered by a blanket.  Big Bart Jackson and his gang come riding up.  Jackson introduces himself and the other members of his gang.  And Jackson says he doesn't know where they are.  Bean tells him:  "It's the Eagle's Nest, Vinegarroon County, Texas."   Jackson asks him about the cactus whiskey and Bean asks him if they got money to pay for it?  Yes, they do.  Bean says ordinarily he would try them and hang them, but as they have money to pay for the whiskey, he will dispense with those proceedings.

The gang starts drinking and talking with the judge.  They have come upon hard times and say it hasn't been easy being an outlaw.  They notice that the judge is all alone.  He has no marshals to help him bring in the bad guys.  So they figure that if the law confiscated half of what the convicted persons possess, then that money could pay the salaries of the marshals with some going to the court and the judge.  Everyone likes the idea, so the judge makes them all marshals for Texas and Miss Lilli.  

One of the marshals, Tector, drops out to be the bartender,  So the other four go out and catch accused murderer Sam Dodd.  They say he killed a Chinaman and his "greaser" wife and he has $90 dollar with him.  So the court trial begins.  The judge is announced and he asks the defendant:  "Do you have anything to say before we find you guilty?"  The guy says he ain't guilty because the lawbook doesn't say anything about killing Chinamen, greasers, or niggers.  Bean dismisses that idea by saying that all men are equal before the law.  They hang Mr. Dodd. 

A fellow keeps shooting his pistols inside the saloon, but nobody says anything to him.  They just keep playing cards.  But when the man points a pistol at the photo of the Jersey Lilly, everyone shoots the fellow at the same time.  Nevertheless, a bullet from his gun puts a big hole in the picture of Miss Langtry.  This makes the judge mad and he declares the case "justifiable homicide".  He then takes money off the man for various crimes such as shooting in a public building.  Bean bets the money in the card game and almost immediately loses it. 

The guys prosper off the system of justice applied west of the Pecos.  A new building appears in Vinegarroon:  the Greater Dance Hall of Vinegarroon.  The small cemetery quickly gets bigger and bigger with time. The Roy Bean Hotel is put in along with a grocery store and a baker and baths place.  Most of the places are owned by the judge.  He puts up more pictures and more photographs of Lilli Langtry.  Bean even brought the New York Times into Vinegarroon in order to read about Lilli. 

The judges says he is crestfallen after having read that Lilli Langtry in a playful mood put a frog down the back of His Highness Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.  The Prince of Wales then rebuked her and this upsets Judge Roy Bean.  Just then Marie Elena comes in wearing a beautiful white dress and having her hair in a style like that of Miss Langtry.  The judge is so shocked at seeing her, that he steps backward a couple of steps. 

One of the marshals shouts that there is going to be an illegal lynching.  Big Bart says that they cannot abide by this fancy pimp gambler for charging such high prices of his women.  The judge tells the men to take the women down from the wagon that he refers to as the traveling bordello.  He walks the pimp down the street and tells him he's got five minutes to get out of town.  He tells the man to steal a horse, a fast horse, because they hang horse thieves around here.

He goes back to the porch of the courthouse and matches up his marshals with particular women.  He then sentences the women to one year under the protective custody of his marshals.  The judge picks one out for himself and this makes Marie Elena very jealous.  She grabs a shotgun and comes after the couple, who dive behind a watering trough for the horses.  Marie Elena fires twice, each time being knocked down by the recoil of the shotgun.  Judge Bean advises his particular gal to steal a fast horse and get out of town. 

Marie Elena stomps off.  The judge follows her and they walk together.  He tells Marie Elena of his dreams about building a great city.  He turns to his gal and says:  "And you can have anything you want."  She says she wants a box that makes songs.  He tells Marie Elena that he thinks she should spend the night in the courthouse so he can protect her from the rough weather of this part of Texas.  She puts her arm in his arm as they continue to walk. They come upon a stranger who is digging a hole in the ground.  The judge pulls out his pistol and goes over to ask the man what is he doing?  The elderly man says he's digging his own grave.  He says he is Grizzly Adams and was a mountain man.  The judge comes closer to the fellow and tells him there will be no illegal dying in his town. 

The judge looks into the cage the man is pulling with the help of oxen. There's a bear in the cage and Grizzly Adams says that the judge should adopt it.  As he leaves, Adams jettisons the cage, which then breaks up freeing the bear.  The judge tells Adams to get back here and take his bear, but Adams just keeps going.  Maria Elena is afraid of the bear so the judge tells her to go home, but she won't leave the judge behind.  So they both return to the saloon.  The bear simply slips under the swinging doors.  So Bean tells the bear to sleep over in the corner. 

The judge, Maria Elena and the bear became so tight that they would put the bear in the back of a wagon and take it on picnics with them.  They put the bear is a largee chair suspended with ropes from a huge sycamore tree.   They then swing the chair back and forth.  They even see-saw with the bear.  Later they give it a bath with soap in a small stream. 

Bean receives a letter in reply to four letter from the personal secretary to Lilli Langtry.  She says that Miss Langtry is on a tour of the Continent but will make every effort to review his suggestion at "her soonest possible convenience"  The judge walks to the hanging with his chest thrust out full of pride.  The sentence is carried out.  Later a photographer takes a photo of the judge, Marie Elena, the marshals and their ex-whores, and the musical band with a hanged man suspended from a rope in the middle of the group.  The bear is in the foreground. 

The albino Bad Bob comes to town firing his pistol into the air.  He corners a man and tells him to go tell that "snake scum judge" that he is going to burn his eyes out and feed him to the buzzards.  The bum even shoots a horse.  He then goes over to the courthouse and tells Bean to come out.  He then insults Lilli Langtry.  From behind Bad Bob Judge Bean shoots a hole in the back of the braggart. 

A fancy gentleman comes into the Jersey Lilly while the judge is playing cards.  He explains to the judge that he is a lawyer named Frank Gass and represents the estate of Charles F. Booke late of St. Louis, Missouri.  He was the original owner of the land where Ben has built up Vinegarroon  -- a man that the judge himself killed.  And the lawyer is now the present owner of the land.  The lawyer keeps pestering the judge until the latter blows his top and says that disturbing a man when he is about to raise or call in a game of cards is a misdemeanor for which the lawyer could be shot. 

The lawyer tries again with the judge.  He pulls out a deed for the land that was granted by a king of Spain.  He then shows the judge the section of law involved in this case.  The judge tears out the page from the law book saying he just repealed the law.  The lawyer objects vociferously, so Bean grabs him and pushes him out of the saloon and over to the bear cage.  He locks the lawyer with the bear in the bear cage.  The lawyer begs to be let out and wants to give the judge all the money he has on him to be set free.  Bean and the lawyer come to an agreement.  The lawyer will stay here and defend prisoners who have financial resources elsewhere.  He will split the proceeds with the judge 60/40.   

Now Frank Gass has a very successful law practice.  But he still wants to get even with the judge for what Bean did to him. 

Bean is in the the saloon watching the bear guzzle down beer directly from the bottle.  When some glue is brought in the bear starts lapping that up.  Then the bear goes over to a recently glued up poster of Miss Langrtry and licks her face.  For this last move the judge starts kicking the bear.  Marie Elena scolds the judge for "quarreling" with the bear. 

One late night an assassin tries to kill the judge.  The bartender thinks it was lawyer Gass who hired the assassin.  The man sneaks through a window of the saloon.  The bear attacks the man and the fellow screams out in pain.  A drunken Bean comes out with pistol in hand.  The would-be assassin is dead and the bear badly wounded.  The marshals now reach the saloon.  Marie Elena lets them in.  They want to know what happened, but the judge doesn't say anything.  He doesn't want the dead man buried, so he tells his men to stick the man onto a large cactus and leave him there. 

A funeral service is held for the bear who is given a very large stone monument (while all the other graves just have wooden crosses).   The monument says the bear died defending the courthouse. 

The judge tells Marie Elena that everything is changing.  The railroad is coming.  People will pass by them and never think about Vinegaroon and what it took to build it.  They won't know anything about the bear or Judge Roy Bean.  Elena tells him that she is going to have his baby in the spring.  Bean wants a son and says he actually needs a son. 

The women (former harlots) and lawyer Gass ridicule the pregnant Mexican mistress of Judge Bean.  They say she is a hussy for deliberately showing everyone that she is pregnant.  The women put pressure on their marshal husbands to get Bean to make the town more respectable.  They don't want, for instance, to see a public display of dead men hanging from ropes.  A hanging should be done in a building set outside of town.  The judge refuses to give up public hangings.  He says he would sooner give up hanging all together, rather than do away with public hangings.  The judge knows that the real movers and shakers on this issue is not the men but the women (or, as he says, the whores) and he doesn't like it.  He says he does the thinking around here. 

The marshals return to the judge for a "showdown".  They don't like him referring to their wives as whores. The marshals say they are in enough trouble with their wives without the judge adding to it.  The wives want their men to defend their honor.  In fact, the women want an apology from the judge.  The women are outside waiting and the men ask the judge to go outside like they had forced him and apologize to the women.  Judge Bean goes over to the ladies and takes off his hat.  He says he is sorry, but it's a mixed apology because he says that he at least didn't call them "callous-ass strumpets, fornicatresses or low-born gutter sluts".

Bartender Tector reads from the newspaper that Lilli Langtry is going to tour the midwestern and southwestern states. They will be coming to San Antonio, Texas for one night.  Maria Elena tells him he should go see her in San Antonio.  At first he says he is to busy with his various jobs as judge, but when he gets the all-clear sign from Marie Elena, he yells to get the Sears and Roebuck catalog because he is going to need the proper attire.   

When the time comes to see Lilli Langtry, the judge is dressed in a tuxedo complete with a top hat.  He carries roses for Miss Langtry.  The judge takes a  ride to the music hall in a beautiful carriage.  He goes to the ticket booth to buy tickets, but is told that they have been sold out for two days.  Bean starts to insist, so they close their booth window with the closed sign.  So the judge shouts out that he will pay anyone $200 dollars for a ticket.  But this only draws the police to him who tell him to leave peaceably. 

A man who looks like a conman tells the judge he can help him.  He says he puts fresh flowers in water for Miss Langtry.  The judge gives the man $100 dollars.  Then he has to give the doorman some money.  As the judge starts to enter the back door the men knock the judge unconscious and pull his body farther down the alley so it won't be seen. 

The judge returns home.  The bartender meets him and tells him that his baby is fine but Marie Elena is not doing well.  One of the marshals tells him that they sent for the doctor for her four days ago and he still hasn't arrived.  The judge sees his baby and then goes in to see his wife.  He brought her back a music box.   He actually scolds her for not getting up since the baby is born already.  She apologizes that the baby is a girl.  He tells her not to change the subject.  He repeats he wants her to get up because this is not suitable behavior for the bride-to-be.  Marie Elena dies.  He holds her body tight to him.  The women in the room are praying and crying. 

The judge goes outside and sits in his rocking chair.  As he sits there, the doctor finally arrives.  The marshal explains that the doctor took so long because he was on a 2 day drunk.  When the doc actually arrives he is still drunk.  The judge tells his marshals to hang the doctor.  The marshals are shocked.  Then he says:  "No, I'll hang him."  The doctor gets on his knees and pleads with the judge not to do this.  The judge puts the noose around his neck and throws the rope over the beam overhead.   He then pulls the man up into the air. 

Frank Gass comes running over shouting that as Mayor of the town he forbids this illegal lynching.  He argues with the marshals, but Bean suddenly just lets go of the judge dropping him to the ground.  When Gass tells the judge that when he was gone, the people voted him mayor, he just leaves almost everything behind and rides off into the desert. 

The bartender raises Bean's daughter as his own.  Mayor Gass takes over almost completely in Vinegarron.  He fired all the former marshals and they had to do low level jobs.  Their wives then ditched them.  Little Rose Bean grew up into a beautiful woman.  Oil was discovered in west Texas.  Gass became completely corrupt and was involved in various types of crime.  Those that opposed him were shot down. 

Miss Bean has a talk with Gass in the old Jersey Lilly Saloon and she ends up chasing him out of the building with a shotgun in her hands.  Even though Gass has the law on his side, Rose says that she refuses to let the saloon be turned into a gas station.  She says she is going to give them hell.

Judge Roy Bean comes riding into town on a horse.  He sees Bart Jackson thrown out of a saloon.  The judge is upset with Bart, but Bart says his life has been unraveling ever since the judge left.  Bean tells Bart to gather together the other three former marshals and meet him at moonrise at the bear's monument. 

There is a knock at the door of the saloon.  It's Bean and his four marshals.  The bartender lets the men in.  The judge sees his daughter.  He asks her questions, but she doesn't speak.  Tector answers for her.  She finally speaks and calls him pa.  The men act like they are going to resist Rose's eviction from the saloon.  Four marshals approach the saloon.  They start banging on the door and Bean shoots twice through the door.  That sends everyone outside scattering for safety. 

Gass arrives and threatens to burn them out if they don't come out peaceably.  One marshal has a tommy gun.   Bean and then the marshals come out shooting.  The marshal with the tommy gun is killed.  Bean's group starts setting fire to the town.  Bean gets on his horse and chases after Gass.  The dancing hall goes up in flames.  Bean chases Gass into a burning building.  Oil derricks burn and crash.   The town is destroyed and the desert reclaims the land. 

One day Miss Langtry stops to see the town.  The station master shows Langtry around what's left of the town.  Langtry meets Tector who is now the director of the Judge Roy Bean Museum.  The Jersey Lilly is flattered seeing the place full of pictures and photos of her.  And the town is now also named after her.  She says that the judge was quite a character and asks where is he now?  Tector tells her that the judge cast in his chips awhile back.  She asks for the judge's pistol and Tector gives it to her.  With it is a letter written by Bean to her that was never mailed.  It's a nice letter to Lilli and she smiles after reading it. 


Bad history but a good film.  In many ways it's a comedy and the funny situations keep coming up almost throughout the entire film.  Paul Newman as the judge is very good in his role.  The ending of the film is a bit over the top and unbelievable.  As the character Lilli Langtry says in the film, the judge was quite the character.  He is portrayed as a hanging judge, but he was not.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


c. 1825  --  born in Kentucky.

At 16 years of age he rides a flatboat to New Orleans where he gets into some trouble.  He moves to San Antonio to be with his brother Sam. 

1840  -- with his brother, he joins a wagon train headed to New Mexico.

As a young man, Roy Bean was involved in freighting along the old Santa Fe trail (from Independce, MO, to Fort Atkinson, to Bent's Fort, CO, to Santa Fe, New Mexico).

1848  --  in Chihuahua, Mexico with his brother he shot a Mexican desperado after the fellow said he was going to kill a "gringo".  He and Sam head west to Sonora. 

1849 (spring)  --  Roy, with his older brother Joshua, move to San Diego, California. 

1852  --  Roy is arrested after wounding a man in a duel over a woman, but he escapes.  He moves to San Gabriel, California where Joshua owned a bar. He tended bar for several years in his brother's bar. When Joshua is killed, Roy inherits his brother's bar. 

1854  --  Bean was hanged after one of his several duels, but was saved by the rope stretching to the point that he could touch his feet to the ground. He was rescued by the woman over whom he had fought the duel. As a result of the hanging, for the rest of his life he had a neck scar and could not move his head without turning his body.

Bean migrates to Dońa Ana County, New Mexico where Sam is the sheriff.

1861 – Samuel G. and Roy Bean operate a merchandise store/saloon on Main Street in Pinos Altos (just north of Silver City), in today’s Grant County, New Mexico. They have a cannon in front of the store and it is used to repel an Apache assault on the town.

1861-1865  -- the American Civil War. 

1862  --  Roy follows the retreating Confederates to San Antonio, Texas.  He runs the union blockade to sell to the British.  He stays in San Antonio for 20 years.  His jobs included:  teamster, selling firewood, running a diary operation and butcher.  (He engaged in various illegal activities to supplement his working endeavors.)

1866  --   Roy marries Virginia Chavez, who is 18 years old and live in a Mexican area of town called Beanville.  He is arrested for domestic violence. The couple have four children:  Roy, Jr, Laura, Zulema and Sam.   Runs a saloon in Beanville.

1870s  -  sells stolen firewood and watered-down milk. One of his favorite actresses was Lillie Langtry. Bean separates from his wife and prepares to head west. 

1882  --  moves to southwest Texas and starts a tent town called Vinegarroon and earns a living by selling whiskey from a tent to railway workers. County commissioners appointed Bean the justice of the peace for Pecos County, even though he knew little about the law.

1882 (December)  --  following the move of railroad construction west, Roy move his courtroom and saloon to Strawbridge, Texas.  Not making a go of it, he moves to Eagle's Nest, Texas (which later became Langtry, Texas for Lilli Langtry, the Jersey Lilly, for the British actress. He names his saloon The Jersey Lilly.  In his career ad justice of the peace only  sentenced two men to be hanged (and one of these men escaped). 

1884  -- elected to office. 

1886  --  fails to be reelected.

1887  --  is appointed the new justice of the peace for a newly created district.  He keeps being reelected until 1896, but even after that he serves as an informal judge in the area.  . 

1896  -- he becomes nationally known when he bypasses the Texas law against boxing matches by staging a heavy weight championship on an island of the Rio Grande on Mexican soil.

1903  --  Bean dies in his bed and is now buried at the Whitehead Museum in Del Rio, Texas.

He never met Lillie Langtry.  She visited in the area some 10 months after the death of Bean. 


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