Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969
Director – George Roy Hill
Starring – Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross
Growing up as a kid, I would visit my dad on the weekends. Together we would watch shows like “Bonanza”, and movies like “The Outlaw Josie Wales”. To my dad, the western was a big deal, and as a result I got pretty burned out on watching them. So I stopped. All through high school, and some of college I avoided them. To me, they all seemed the same. Gritty, boring, long, and worst of all, un-interesting. It was in college that I began my love of foreign film, from the French new wave, to Italian neo-realism. The angry young men of British films, to the heroic samurai from Japan. It was one samurai film in particular that caught my attention (Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo”), and eventually led me back to the western through the work that it inspired (A Fist Full of Dollars).
Despite this rather circuitous route, I’ve since come to embrace the western as the praise-deserving genre that it is. With these newly opened eyes, I’ve seen some real gems that I would have otherwise missed, among them, Once Upon a Time in the West, 3:10 to Yuma (the 2007 version, as I have yet to see the original), The Proposition, and now…Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!
Newman and Redford are positively magnetic as the titular pair of outlaws in this late 60’s film by George Roy Hill. Redford in particular stands out for me. He is quiet, introspective, dangerous, and complex. He has an intensity as well as a light-heartedness, all conveyed through “simple” posturing, or through a smouldering stare. Before this, my only real knowledge of Robert Redford came from a small selection of his acting resume (Three Days of the Condor, Sneakers, and Spy Game), none of which gave a consistent feel for his ability. In Butch and Sundance, I feel that I got a much clearer glimpse into why this actor became as popular as he did. As the Sundance Kid, he is the calm, cool and capable partner of Butch Cassidy, the smooth-talking, idea-man played by Paul Newman. Despite Butch being more of the main character, and having more dialogue, he was continually out shone by the quiet, almost Harry Lime-esque character of the Sundance Kid.
Don’t get me wrong, Paul Newman is great in the role of Butch Cassidy, but since I expected less of Redford, I was left with a more lasting impression from his performance.
Both characters seem wholly entranced by, and are ultimately slaves to the impending future. They are living through the events of the present, with their eyes firmly forward, ever planning the next heist, fleeing the current town for the next one, and orchestrating the next caper. As the film progresses, they slowly become aware that this shiny future they admire has no place for them, that they are a dying breed. In every aspect of their lives, there exists strife. From the dissent in their own gang, to the special posse contracted to deal with them, to the overwhelming odds they face by the end of the film, it becomes clear that their time is through.
The thing about this impending doom, though, is that they are seemingly un-willing to change in order to stop it. While trying to escape their pursuers, they are told “It’s over, don’t you get that? Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.” Throughout the film, they are given multiple chances to turn away from their destiny, but they never do. The glamour and and excitement of this lifestyle is all they know, and it keeps them constantly committed to their outlaw trade, looking for fresh starts, second chances and new hideouts (New York, Bolivia, Colorado, etc.). The eventuality of their communal fate, illustrated in the scene where Butch Cassidy is riding his brand new bicycle, doing tricks, and taking risks, only to end up in front of a stampeding bull. And so it is with Sundance too. The railroads are bringing civilization and law to the once lawless terrain measured and ruled by the gunfighter and his gang. They are literally and figuratively being driven to extinction.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a fantastic watch, and is well deserving of it’s place on the list of 1001 Movies you Must See Before You Die. Highly Recommended.
“What the shit, bicycle montage?” – Ashley