Although Gary Cooper is starred, Walter Brennan commands major attention with a slick characterization of Judge Roy Bean, the dispenser of law at Vinegaroon – west of the Pecos. Supplied with a particularly meaty role, of which he takes fullest advantage, Brennan turns in a socko job that does much to hold together a not too impressive script.
The story [by Stuart N. Lake], of cattlemen’s resentment against the migration of settlers to Texas in the post-Civil War days, is a rather familiar one cinematically. But producer Samuel Goldwyn has invested his version with plenty of production assets – good cast topped by Cooper; extended shooting schedule under direction of William Wyler; and eye-filling scenic backgrounds that are accentuated by expert photography.
Cooper is a wandering cowhand who comes before the two-gun judge charged with horse-stealing, and convicted by the jury that brings in verdicts according to the ideas of Brennan. But the latter is a worshipper of actress Lily Langtry, and when Cooper professes intimate acquaintance with the lady, sentence is suspended while the judge gets some anecdotes about the beauteous ‘Jersey Lily’.
A strange friendship develops between the cantankerous old judge and the cowboy. In the midst of the battle between the homesteaders and the cattlemen, Cooper mediates the trouble by convincing the judge to declare peace between the factions. Then Cooper falls in love with Doris Davenport, daughter of a rancher, to cement him closer to the settlers.
Cooper provides a satisfactory portrayal of the roaming westerner; although he has handled the same type of roles many times. Davenport, a newcomer from the extra field, delivers satisfactorily as the rancher’s daughter.
1940: Best Supp. Actor (Walter Brennan).
Nominations: Best Original Story, B&W Art Direction