#155) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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#155) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

OR “Parker & Longabaugh Just Didn’t Sound Right”

Directed by George Roy Hill

Written by William Goldman

Class of 2003

The Plot: Partially based on real events, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (Paul Newman & Robert Redford) are two outlaws who rob banks and trains throughout the Wild West. While travelling through Wyoming with their infamous “Hole in the Wall Gang”, the two discover a mysterious posse in pursuit of them (“Who are those guys?”). Running out of options, they meet up with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta Place (Katharine Ross) and hightail it to Bolivia, though their problems eventually follow them there.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the work of Newman, Redford, Hill, Goldman, and composer Burt Bacharach.

But Does It Really?: As a continuation of New Hollywood’s deconstruction of the classic Western, “Butch Cassidy” is a fresh spin that never takes itself too seriously. Butch & Sundance are neither heroes nor villains, just two outlaws making it up as they go along. It may be a little too anachronistic for some (even William Goldman felt he overdid it on the “smart-assness”) but the chemistry between Newman & Redford helps smooth over any rough patches and prevents this from being “just another Western”. It might not be one of the great untouchables in film, but I’d put it in the “above average” category entertainment-wise, while its enduring popularity and cultural impact make for an obvious inclusion on this list.

Everybody Gets One: Composer Burt Bacharach, lyricist Hal David, and actor Ted “Lurch” Cassidy.

Wow, That’s Dated: Score by Burt Bacharach. (Yeah, he’s getting a lot of mentions here, but that score is very ‘60s.)

Seriously, Oscars?: Although “Butch Cassidy” won four Oscars (Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, and Song), it lost Picture and Director to fellow NFR entry “Midnight Cowboy”. Additionally, it lost Best Sound to “Hello, Dolly!”, a defeat the film can never live down. To add insult to injury, “Butch Cassidy” received no acting nominations for any of the three leads.

Other notes

  • Robert Parker started off as a butcher, while Harry Longabaugh got his first jail sentence in Sundance, Wyoming. There’s your trivia answer.
  • The film George Roy Hill directed immediately before this one? “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. Wrap your head around that one, why don’t cha.
  • Ah, the glorious time when Katharine Ross got “above-the-title” billing.
  • Speaking of, Ross would eventually marry Sam Elliott, who makes his film debut here as a card player in Sundance’s first scene. Elliott and Ross share no scenes and wouldn’t start dating until the late ‘70s, but they’re still going!
  • How much of this movie is in sepia-tone?
  • Butch Cassidy’s gang was actually called the Wild Bunch in real life, but I guess that name was taken.
  • In addition to writing this, “The Princess Bride”, and “All the President’s Men” (among many others), William Goldman also wrote “The Season”, my personal theater bible. He started writing “The Season” shortly after selling the screenplay to “Butch Cassidy”.
  • That’s George Furth as Woodcock, or as I’ll always know him, “Howard Johnson is right!” Coincidentally, this film features brief appearances by future “Young Frankenstein” co-stars Kenneth Mars and Cloris Leachman.
  • The cinematography is just brilliant throughout. Kudos to Conrad L. Hall.
  • “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” has nothing to do with the scene it accompanies (or the rest of the movie for that matter), but I’ll be damned if it’s not the catchiest. You can’t imagine any other song being in that scene.
  • Paul Newman should have won an Oscar for the bike stunts alone.
  • I have inexplicably gotten a lot of mileage out of the line “Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?”
  • There’s a lot of shots (especially during the chase sequences) where there’s action occurring literally miles in the background. That can’t be easy to coordinate. Well done everyone.
  • Here’s what I like about this movie’s dialogue: no one’s spouting witty one-liners, it’s all very organic banter. It’s easy for me to accept that two charismatic outlaws would have this kind of natural repartee.
  • Nope, definitely not stuntmen as Butch and Sundance float down the river.
  • Very considerate of the murderous posse to give everyone time to pack for their trip.
  • So everyone in Bolivia is from Mexico?
  • In addition to the aforementioned catchy song, I greatly enjoy the selection “South American Getaway”. I hear you, Thurl Ravenscroft.
  • As I’ve always said: Behind every great legendary bandit team is a woman whose identity and factual details remain a mystery to this day.
  • Butch & Sundance’s wanted poster doesn’t really look like them. Now they know how Flynn Rider feels.
  • Strother Martin? It’s a “Cool Hand Luke” reunion! Still poor communication skills, however.
  • “Tried new Bolivian restaurant yesterday. Lovely patio seating, great service, but our meal was interrupted by climactic shoot-out. Good entrée, though. 2 out of 5 Stars.”

Legacy

  • Newman & Redford would reunite with George Roy Hill for 1973’s “The Sting”, which won Hill an Oscar and would eventually find its own place on the NFR.
  • The prequel “Butch and Sundance: The Early Days”, starring the legendary pairing of Tom Berenger and William Katt (“The Greatest American Antihero”?)
  • Two separate films that focused on Etta Place’s life after Butch & Sundance: “Wanted: The Sundance Woman” with Katharine Ross reprising her character, and “Mrs. Sundance” starring Elizabeth Montgomery.
  • Both leads named non-profits after elements of this film: Redford with his Sundance Institute (as well as the film festival), and Newman with his summer camp Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.
  • The TV show “Alias Smith & Jones” got its general vibe from this film.
  • Everyone who’s ever needle-dropped “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”.
  • As for the real Butch & Sundance, who the hell knows?

Listen to This: There’s no Bacharach on the National Recording Registry? Come on!

2 thoughts on “#155) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)”

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