A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (John Huston, 1972)

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean belongs to a sub-genre that prevailed in the early 1970s; I think of them as "stoner Westerns." The huge success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969) spawned a lot of movies that took an irreverent look at the legend of the American Old West and were aimed at the younger countercultural audience. They include such diverse films as Little Big Man (Arthur Penn, 1970), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971), The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Philip Kaufman, 1972), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973), and Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974). Most of them were seen as commentaries on American violence and the quagmire of the Vietnam War. Paul Newman, who had played Billy the Kid earlier in his career in The Left Handed Gun (Arthur Penn, 1958) as well as Butch Cassidy, found himself the go-to actor to portray Western legends: In addition to Judge Roy Bean, he was also cast as Buffalo Bill Cody in Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (Robert Altman, 1976). The Life of Times of Judge Roy Bean began with an original screenplay by John Milius, who wanted to direct it and to star Warren Oates in the title role, but when Newman read the script, he arranged for the rights to be bought up and for John Huston to be brought on as director. There is a whiff of hommage to (or perhaps parody of) Butch Cassidy in the film: As in the earlier film, which has a musical interlude with Butch and Etta Place (Katherine Ross) larking around to the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," Judge Roy Bean has a scene in which the Judge, Maria Elena (Victoria Principal), and a bear lark around to the song "Marmalade, Molasses & Honey," which was written for the film by Maurice Jarre, Marilyn Bergman, and Alan Bergman. The song earned an Oscar nomination, but Huston was unable to find a consistent tone for the movie, which lurches from broad comedy (much of it provided by antics with the bear) to satire (the triumph of an avaricious lawyer played by Roddy McDowall) to pathos (the death of Maria Elena). It is laced with cameos, some of which provide the film's highlights, particularly the over-the-top performances of Anthony Perkins as an itinerant preacher and Stacy Keach as an albino outlaw named Bad Bob. But Ava Gardner simply walks through her scene as Lillie Langtry -- a decided anticlimax, given that she's been the off-screen obsession of Bean through most of the film.