Judge Roy Bean, a legend of the old west, was indeed a real person ((1825-1903) and has been immortalized on screen countless times. The larger-than-life character of Bean would seem like a natural for the likes of Lee Marvin, who specialized in larger-than life portrayals. Apparently at one point, he almost was “The hanging Judge west of the Pecos.”
According to a recently discovered documentary (Milius 2013), it was Marvin who was the intended star of the 1973 film, The Life & Times of Judge Roy Bean. I was amazed to only recently find this out as I would have included it in the appendix I did of nearly four dozen films Lee Marvin almost made as an exclusive extra in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
According to writer/director John Milius’s film school alum, George Lucas in talking about Milius and the project: “He got a job to write Judge Roy Bean. Judge Roy Bean was one of the most brilliant screenplays I ever read. It just was magnificent and polished and good and it just blew everybody away.” Martin Scorsese chimed in with, “The work reflected a stand that was impenetrable. You couldn’t change it. This guy really believed in what he was saying.”
For the full story as to what transpired, John Milius himself takes over the story in an interview conducted long before his debilitating stroke:
“It was sent to Lee Marvin. And Lee Marvin got the script. His agent sent it. And he was reading it and he really liked it. He got drunk and left it on his chair and went off and passed out somewhere [laughs]. And Newman picked it up and started reading it and took it away. He called his people in Los Angeles and said, ‘Buy this script. I wanna do this.’ So, they came to me and said, ‘We wanna buy this script.’ I said, ‘Fine. I wanna direct it.’ They said, ‘No, no. That’s not possible.’
See, there were two prices. One that was really cheap with me directing it. The one that kept going up and up without me [was the other price]. They finally paid the price without me. In 1972-73, that was a helluva lot money. There is no good movie without a good script.
It wasn’t at all the same movie. Huston wasn’t the right person to direct it and Newman certainly wasn’t the right person to act in it and they’re all terrific people. Paul Newman is on of the nicest, most intelligent people in the world. I can’t say anything against him. He just wasn’t right for that movie.”
And so, there you have it. Yet another, and probably one of the strangest examples, of a property Marvin would have been great in but due to unusual circumstances, was not meant to be. Pity, really in as much as I liked the quirky film, Marvin would have been terrific!
– Dwayne Epstein