I’d never heard of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean before, but I think I understand why. Not only is it a determinedly strange Western, a genre premised on predictability, but there isn’t really a plot as such; it’s more like a picaresque except the adventures come to him, and he meets them all with the same solemn, ludicrous seriousness of a Don Quixote in west Texas. Paul Newman’s complete and utter lack of humor seems to be the point, as far as I can tell–after all, what‘s funnier than a buffoon with no sense of humor?–but even though the movie opens by noting that this isn’t so much how it was as how it should have been, it’s really not clear why. That said, if Don Quixote were a Western, it would be something like this movie, especially if you added a couple pinches of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur‘s Court, and those are a pair of interesting books. Maybe the Judge is just a person who believes in things with his whole heart, and somewhere along the line he read the wrong books about the American West, or heard the wrong stories, and got the wrong idea. And like Twain’s “Boss,” fireworks must sooner or later ensue? In any case, much like The Ballad of Cable Hogue (which it resembles in many ways) or Dallas, the odd feeling of recognition on seeing the film’s narrative suddenly turn into a story about oil development, yet without the possibility of reference to the things those things, in my mind, now refer to is, to say the least, odd.

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