Movie: "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid"
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Writing credits: William Goldman
Reviewer: Max Burbank
Plot: The Wild West is winding down. When it’s over will there be any place at all for Butch and Sundance? Banks have become too secure, so they start robbing trains. The railroad barons send a super posse after them, and the outlaws run. Squeezed out of America they head south to Bolivia, where they briefly try to go straight, but soon start robbing banks again. Progress catches up with them, when pinned down in a small town square, the Bolivian Army shows up and puts and end to the ‘Banditos Americanos’.
Review: This is hands down my favorite damn film. I stopped counting how many times I’ve seen it years ago. It won five Oscars. It’s arguably the first ‘buddy film’ ever made. It broke every convention of the Western genre at that time, and in a number of ways it’s unclassifiable. This is an outrageously funny, lighthearted comedy that realistically portrays two criminals at the end of their career who score not a single victory as they are systematically run down and killed. How the hell do you pull that off? Two absolutely brilliant pairings, one on screen, one behind it.
George Roy Hill directed. Former marine pilot, Shakespearean actor, television director for Playhouse 90 and, Pulitzer prize winning Broadway director, reclusive and inscrutable, sometimes dictatorial as a director, was paired with a relatively unknown screenwriter and novelist, William Goldman. 20’Th Century Fox took a hell of a gamble, allegedly buying the script for $400,00.00, and unheard of sum for the time. Goldman’s script would win an Oscar, and he would go on to write the screenplays for ‘All the President’s Men’, (which won him his second Oscar) ‘Marathon Man’, ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Misery’.
Almost mirroring the pairing of Hill and Goldman, the film costarred Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Newman came to the film an established star, having starred in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, ‘Exodus’, ‘The Hustler’ and ‘Cool Hand Luke’. Trained as an actor at Yale by Lee Strassberg, he brought a measured, beautifully controlled performance to the role of Butch, the thinker. Redford was only thirty-three when he played Sundance, and while he’d had one major success on Broadway with ‘Barefoot in the park’ and gone on to do the silver screen adaptation, he feared being typecast as a pretty boy male ingénue. He had a raw scrappy acting style he’d yet to be allowed to use, perfect for the charming, lethal Sundance.
I could write a book about this movie, but here I’ll just touch on a few highpoints.
Historically, Goldman’s research is meticulous. Butch and Sundance were in no way legendary, like Jesse James, or Wyatt Earp. The household name status Butch and Sundance now enjoy is almost entirely due to this film.
The film features a near existential half-hour chase scene where you never once see the faces of the pursuers and there is no catharsis of final confrontation. It is entirely about anti heroes running away. The beats of the action marked out by the repeated phrase ‘Who are those guys?’ (And you never do know, there’s only speculation) it closes in slapstick comedy, with Sundance about to fight to the death on the edge of a cliff instead of jumping to the river bellow because he’s too embarrassed to tell Butch he can’t swim. Butch laughing hysterically, responds “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you!” As they run and jump, Redford hollers and elongated “oooooOOOOOOH SHIIIIIIIIIT!” that was most probably the first cuss word I ever heard in a movie, as I was all of seven when I first saw it.
In the final scene, as Butch and Sundance in great pain patch up horrible wounds and get ready to make a break for it, they never once discuss what’s going on. They banter with blood on their lips about trying their luck in Australia. They are both already probably fatally wounded and they know it, they have no idea they are about to face an entire army, and they shoot the shit about what they’ll do next, not in denial but as a kindness to each other.
The last exchange, the final brilliant shot? I won’t tell you because maybe you haven’t seen it.
And as if that isn’t enough, Katherine Friggin’ Ross. In rapid succession she turned in three absolutely brilliant performances, book-ending her role as Etta Place with ‘The Graduate’ in ’67, and ‘The Stepford Wives’ in 75. Sadly disappearing into crap roles, she graced us in 2001 as Dr. Lillian Thurman in “Donnie Darko”. As an actress she had a very light touch, an underplayed almost effortless realism. For a very long time in my life, all I wanted was to grow up to marry her.
The only thing about this film that’s aged for me won the film one of its four Oscars. I’m pretty sure I never liked the montage sequence set to the insufferable ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.’ Like Corinna Mura, the uncredited ‘Singer With Guitar’ sequence in ‘Casablanca’, it’s best just repress your memory of that particular chunk of film.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
Never seen this movie, but anything that has a musical montage to “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” just plain scares me. Maybe if I can sit through the horror that is that song, I can watch what seems like a great movie.
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