Sunday, October 12, 2008

Newman's Own

The recent passing of Paul Newman has garnered many well-deserved tributes to both the man and his career. A giant has crossed our paths and his footprints he left on this earth are deep, leaving lasting impressions on those whose lives he’s touched by the way this man had chosen to live his own.
His most famous film roles in COOL HAND LUKE, THE VERDICT, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and THE STING have all been the subject of focus since Newman died and deservedly so. However there are some they may fall through the cracks that are also well worth mentioning. Newman worked a wide array of directors, most notably Martin Ritt in his formative years , especially the brilliant HUD with the equally brilliant Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas. He never strayed far from more daring filmmakers like Robert Altman or The Coen Brothers. Newman even worked with Alfred Hitchcock in TORN CURTAIN. While not one of his best, Hitchcock’s film does engage Newman in one of the most brutal and realistic fight scenes in history.
Then there is the underappreciated western tall tale THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN directed by John Huston and written by John Milius. Based on the legend of the notorious Texan hanging judge, ROY BEAN falls under the category of that pantheon of western known as the End of the Wild West. It can stand proudly next to PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID, MONTE WALSH or even BUTCH CASSIDY itself. ROY BEAN has an impressive cast including Ava Gardner as Lily Langtry, a young Victoria Principal in one of her first roles, Ned Beatty, Anthony Perkins, Roddy McDowall and Stacy Keach as Bad Bob…the original Bad Bob, the albino. And the memorable, melancholy score by Maurice Jarre haunts to this day. Even the cornball theme song MARMALADE, MOLASSES AND HONEY (sung by Andy Williams!) works in a strange way.
But the whole show belongs to Huston, Milius and Newman. Huston’s direction is loose and fun-loving, even borrowing from the cult classic EL TOPO in the opening scene, then spinning a yarn as masterfully as he does with his pet project of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING a couple of years later. Milius proves that he has always been one of the best screenwriters of that period with a distinct voice that is sorely lacking in today’s films. His script is chockfull of memorable dialogue.
Judge: Justice is the handmaiden of the law.
Deputy: I thought you said the law was the handmaiden of justice.
Judge: Works both ways.
As for Newman’s howling at the moon performance as Roy Bean, it stands out in an illustrious career as one of his best. Observe the daring and crazy ass shouting match he has with his bear and marvel at the way this wild beast does not tear him apart on camera. The final shootout alone is worth the price of admission when the elderly Judge Roy Bean steps out the saloon before an entire arsenal pointed in his direction. Someone tosses a torch at him that he catches in mid-air.
“Who the hell are you?” someone else yells.
“Justice, you sons-of-bitches!” he replies, tossing the torch back and starting the fire that sets the whole town ablaze.
Fantastic.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN is well worth discovering, probably more successful than BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, though I admire that as well. It makes a great companion piece to Sydney Pollack's JEREMIAH JOHNSON starring Newman's buddy Robert Redford. Make a double bill out of 'em, pop some Newman's Own popcorn and have a great night at the movies.
As the Judge would say, “That is my ruling.”
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