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THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN
Peculiar western score bolstered by excellent main theme
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 1972 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall
Written by John Milius, directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean was a high-profile (albeit slightly unusual) western released at a time when there was little demand for them - although Milius's typically right-wing, flag-waving screenplay may have put off a few more. Newman plays the titular judge, dishing out justice in his own violent way. It wasn't terribly successful, but (as with all of Huston's films) is always fascinating to watch.
While Maurice Jarre seems a bizarre choice of composer to have ever scored an American western, he actually squeezed a few of them in over the years, and his score for this was note-perfect - Huston made an inspired choice in hiring him, with the idiosynchratic music providing the perfect blend of Jarre's romantic tendencies with Morricone's zaniness. The real highlight is the main theme, introduced on zither before being taken up by the full orchestra, in the opening track. Somewhat personal and intimate - but blessed with Jarre's customary joie de vivre - it really is a delight.
It's used in various guises by the composer during the score, including as a martial traveling piece in "The Marshalls". There are a few other set-pieces of note - a wonderful action piece, "The Shooting", proves surprisingly harsh and violent, and is qutie brilliant. At times though, the score on album suffers from the sheer wackiness which sees it function so well in the film, veering in one direction and then another without pausing for breath - a gentle piece of drama is followed by a silly mariachi tune, and so on. This is quite engaging depending upon your mood, but can certainly make for a disjointed listening experience. There's also some music which is just plain weird, with some eerie, discordant music, some of it going on seemingly forever (the ten-minute "That Man on Horseback" - admittedly found only in the bonus materials - is utterly bizarre).
It's hard to know exactly what to make of this score - for every moment which makes you sit up and think you're hearing vintage Jarre up with his finest, there's one which makes you scratch your head and wonder exactly what he was thinking. This is a side-effect of the way the music's used in the film, rather than any deficiency on the composer's part, but it can be a bit of a strain to make it through the 70-minute album in one sitting.