The Archivist XXXV: Zen Anarchist, John Milius

by Ryan Lewellen

The Archivist

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand & Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

John Milius was once counted among the ranks of the most promising young talents of New Hollywood. By the late 60s, America’s movie industry was in crisis, and it turned to creatives straight out of film school who were often given free reign on what would become some of the greatest films ever made. Milius was best-buds with the likes of Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, and Schrader, and it was in collaborating with them he made his most memorable marks, without most audiences realizing it. The “U.S.S Arkansas Monologue” delivered so disquietly by Robert Shaw in Jaws was his creation. He was nominated for an Academy Award as the writer of Apocalypse Now. He would go on to bring Conan The Barbarian to bloody life, directing Arnold Schwarzenegger in the title role. When he wasn’t creating iconic films, he developed a reputation for his larger-than-life, arguably far-right persona (his payment for re-writing Dirty Harry was a pricey gun). He was known as a kind of hyper-masculine raconteur amongst friends until a stroke robbed him of any speaking ability at the end of the previous decade. Supposedly, he has since recovered, and is possibly back at work on his magnum opus: Genghis Khan. For now, we can only hope for his triumphant return, and examine a couple scripts which appear to serve his personal worldview manifestos.


“Maybe this isn’t the way it was… it’s the way it should have been,” muses the final page of introductory text over Roy Bean (Paul Newman), pre-judge, aimlessly riding a horse across the Pecos. Bean, a semi-successful bank robber, happens upon a palpably syphilitic brothel in Vinegaroon where he is robbed and beaten within an inch of his life. Half-dead in the dessert, a young Mexican girl delivers him a pistol, which he proficiently utilizes in dispensing “justice” against the entire building’s patrons. Interpreting the event as divine intervention, and having read the lengthy Texas state law book, Roy Bean appoints himself judge of this town he renames Langtry, after his obsession, Hollywood starlet Lillie Langtry (Ava Gardner). There, he spends many years drawing citizens, appointing deputies, and hanging man after man for any act he deems criminal. In time, though he has amassed great wealth and power, and exacted inconceivable change, he is driven from his land by a sly lawyer. Years pass, and the daughter he left behind (Jacqueline Bisset) has grown and believes her legendary father will return and help her reclaim their family legacy.

The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean makes for some bizarre and entertaining viewing. The producers felt Milius wasn’t hot-shit enough yet to direct the picture, so John Huston was given the reigns (and a small role as Grizzly Adams, who leaves a scene-stealing black bear behind), but I can’t imagine the screenplay was altered too significantly. If you know anything about John Milius, you can practically hear Bean’s words coming out of the filmmaker’s mouth. This is the tale of a man who playfully forces a dictatorship upon a town, which plays every bit like a light and heroic comedy. Things turn mythically tragic by the end, but first we’re treated to a lot of charming (albeit fascist) Old West antics. Stacy Keach takes an hilarious turn as Bad Bob The Albino, and Paul Newman has more chemistry with the damn bear than maybe any big name actress. Frankly, the film is just too odd and intriguing to miss.


Not long after he was bumped out of the director’s chair by Huston, Milius was given the opportunity of a lifetime: to direct an old-school epic adventure film from his own screenplay. The result was a fictionalized story based on the Perdicaris Incident, wherein Eden Perdicaris (Candice Bergen played a female version of the real-life man), and her children are kidnapped from their home in Morocco by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery), a man who believes he is a descendant of Muhammad and the rightful Sultan, for the purpose of embarrassing the corrupt Sultan of Morocco and perhaps igniting a civil war. Political tensions are complex in the Morocco of 1904, and many world powers, including Germany, France, and Britain have staked a fractional claim on the country. The kidnapping also lures America into the tumult, for imperialist, cowboy President Theodore Roosevelt is demanding the safe return of Perdicaris as a means of securing a full-term presidency.

That’s the plot: sample version. This is a dense script involving a lot of pro-imperialism, masculinity, and like Roy Bean, Old West heroism in its themes. This film shares many elements with the “A” selection in this edition of The Archivist. Roosevelt’s daughter is almost creepily enamored with her father, it’s a story of a man who believes he is doing God’s work in an unruly land, and they both follow intensely masculine protagonists with questionable outlooks. The Wind And The Lion is attractive, features a brilliant performance by Brian Keith as Roosevelt, so swept up in his conflicted admiration for Raisuli, he finds a perfect balance between appearing focused and mesmerized. This, too, is not a great picture, but watching either film mentioned here separately is ill-advised. Watch them together, and maybe find the time for Milius (2013), a thorough documentary on the eccentric filmmaker, and the images and ideas may never leave your mind.

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