Roy Bean was a real-life western character, a self-appointed Texas judge who called himself “the law west of the Pecos” and administered justice from inside a saloon. Walter Brennan won an Oscar for playing him in 1940’s The Westerner, and Edgar Buchanan played him in the 1956 TV western series Judge Roy Bean. But the best-known Bean is Paul Newman, in John Huston’s highly fictionalized 1972 version of Bean’s biography. In this version,
Bean is an outlaw who takes over a small town by force, names himself a law enforcement officer, and enlists other outlaws as his deputies, who capture other desperados and confiscate their loot. Such familiar western characters as Billy the Kid and Grizzly Adams (played by Huston) cross Bean’s path. With a two-fisted script by John Milius (who later wrote Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn), Huston and Newman created a raucous, Rabelaisian, revisionist western of the sort popular at the time (see also Little Big Man and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). The movie also provided early roles for future Dallas stars Steve Kanaly and (in the female lead) Victoria Principal. Critics and audiences gave the film mixed reviews four decades ago, but today, Judge Roy Bean is considered one of the better revisionist westerns.