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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

February 11, 2011

9/10 Two-Bit Outlaws

Can’t go wrong with Newman and Redford, folks. Simple as that.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is about the said bank-robbin’, train-robbin’ legendary gunslingers of old as they go from doing what they do best with their Hole in the Wall Gang to riding for their lives from one seriously mean group of trackers after bumping off one safe too many from the wrong guy. Along the way they team up with their lady friend, they try every trick in the book to shake Johnny Law by heading East, South and anywhere that doesn’t have their faces plastered on WANTED posters, and they even try going the straight and narrow. But when push comes to shove, these guys were born banditos and they’re gonna die banditos, but they sure as hell ain’t goin’ down without a fight.

So when people ask me for good Western recommendations,  Once Upon a Time in the West, The Proposition (despite how many people report back with “it put me to sleep”) and The Outlaw Josey Wales amongst others are usually ones that come to mind (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly tends to be a given). But this little ditty here doesn’t often make the list, and that’s not to say that this isn’t a great Western or anything, I guess it’s because this isn’t what you’d expect from a Western.

You don’t really expect to laugh in a Western, you don’t really expect a buddy movie from a Western, and you most definitely don’t expect to watch one of the leading men impress a girl with bicycle acrobatics as Burt Bacharach plays in the background. Then again, that’s what’s so fun about this Western and that’s one of the many things that makes it stand out from the crowd. It’s not about vengeance, it’s not about vigilante justice, it’s about the lighter side of being America’s Most Wanted and all things that’ve always made the life of a cowboy so damn appealing: shootouts, stealing shit, and doing it all with a smile on your face.

Thanks a lot, Garth Brooks. Thanks a lot for screwing ii all up.

But this here is fueled by a perfect storm of guys who really know a thing or two about making cool look easy. It’s directed by George Roy Hill of Slap Shot, The Sting and Slaughterhouse-Five fame, it’s written by William Goldman of Marathon Man, Misery, and All the President’s Men fame, and there to drive it all home are two of the most awesome fellas that have ever graced this fine galaxy of ours, Paul Newman as Butch and Robert Redford as Sundance. Let’s be honest, there was no way this movie could have failed.

As easy as it would be to start ranting about how Newman and Redford make the movie and how I sometimes dream about an alternate reality where they’re actually my two gay dads, a big reason why their dynamic is so damn great is due to the script that pens ’em that way. Butch is the brains and the mouth, Sundance is the quiet muscle, they’re the perfect complement to each other, they live to give each other shit and they could care less about backing up their rep since it always seems to precede them. But as someone who’s not from the 1890s, they don’t seem larger than life, they really just seem like normal guys…who, like, kill people and stuff.

Part of it is Newman and Redford’s chemistry, but I really dig the way Goldman makes a point to give these two a sense of humor that’s always there since his leads already have the whole “natural badass” thing covered. Just a really funny pair that are great at taking life in stride even when they’re holster-deep in shit and constantly wondering “Who are those guys?” that keep hunting them down.

But the chemistry between these two Hollywood icons really is something else. Newman and Redford don’t come off as characters, they come off as friends with spurs on. You watch them together and it’s no wonder why their names are synonymous with one another. God, these are the kind of guys you wish were your friends or could at least run into one night and buy a pitcher of beer for in the hopes of getting invited over to their table. From the minute you meet them, all you’ll want to do is keep on getting to know them, and that’s kinda the whole draw right there that never gets old.

Although I’m not sure how to feel about the whole non-love triangle with Butch, Sundance and Sundance’s main squeeze, Etta. There was total potential there to use her as a point of contention between the two hombres, but then again, that’s already been done and their dynamic does work as is. Butch would never pull that shit on Sundance anyway.

Newman would never pull that shit. Too much drama.

Sure, it’s not the most tough-as-nails Western out there, but that’s not to say it doesn’t stand up as a Western in its own right either. The final shootout between Butch, Sundance and the entire nation of Bolivia is flat-out awesome and really well-filmed, it’s got one of cinema’s more memorable knife fights to boot, and few gunmen have ever looked so mean and handsome at the same time as Redford and his power ‘stache. The formula’s there and it’s damn good, just doesn’t come in the same gritty packaging is all.

I haven’t seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid too many times in my day, but that refresher course is always a nice little surprise when I do. Always forget how much I love their last conversation, always forget how much I fucking love that ending, and I always forget what an entirely enjoyable way to kill two hours this is. It’s all about tone with this one, and while there’s not as much character development as there is character self-realization, that’s A-okay by me. After all, does it getter any better than discovering that you’re a cowboy through and through?

Actually…yes. Yes it does.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2011 4:49 am

    ‘If he would just pay me what he’s spending to stop me from robbing him… id stop robbing him!’
    brilliant. butch cassidy is a funny one though. because it tries to mash a lot of styles and tricks together i find some of it leaves me a bit cold. i actually much prefer The Sting, think it just hangs together better. but the main bit where theyre getting chased through canyons (‘who ARE those guys?’) is just great

    • February 11, 2011 9:14 am

      Hahaha. That was a great line.

      Haven’t seen The Sting since I was a kid, but it’s one of the few movies that Netflix keeps suggesting to me every time I boot up the homepage, so I think it might be time for a refresher course one of these days.

      Love that “What ARE those guys?” bit, too. Great stuff.

  2. February 11, 2011 10:01 am

    I liked this one a lot, but the heavy music bits were just terrible, especially the montage of them robbing all the banks with that annoying ditty playing over the whole thing. Cut those out and I’m a lot closer to loving this film.

    Still, it’s a fantastic film, not sure if I really see it as a Western, but it’s certainly one of the best buddy films out there.

    • February 15, 2011 4:11 pm

      Yeah, definitely more like a buddy film that happens to be set in the West, but it’s still a blast. Only musical interlude that bugged me was their whole photo montage in NYC, but other than that, didn’t bother me so much. Kinda added to the charm.

  3. February 11, 2011 12:37 pm

    Definitely one of my top 5 favorite Westerns. The chemistry between Redford and Newman is legendary, and I think it’s probably captured the best in this film. The way it is shot is amazing, especially the shots when they are being chased by the man in the white hat, Lord Baltimore, with the camera zooming far out over miles and miles on to these little specks riding along on the plains. The scenery is obviously beautiful and everything about the characters and the plot feels authentic. It’s funny without trying to be, its action packed, suspenseful, and romantic. It has some of the best lines in movie history as well as an ending that’s simply brilliant. This is a must see movie. Great review Aiden. My day is that much better having spent a couple minutes at work remembering how awesome this movie is.

    • February 14, 2011 1:07 pm

      Hahaha. Thanks, man. Glad I could help out. That whole thing about Newman and Redford being cool without even trying really is something that’s been lost with movie stars these days. Wish we had more of these two together outside of this and The Sting. Single tear…

  4. HermioneO permalink
    February 11, 2011 12:47 pm

    “Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”

    Hands down, the best, most identifiable line in the movie. And you didn’t mention it. Go to your corner.

  5. February 11, 2011 6:22 pm

    Thought this one was a taaad overrated. Didn’t crack my top 15 Westerns.

  6. February 17, 2011 1:32 am

    My Two Gay Dads was an awesome TV show.

    “and you most definitely don’t expect to watch one of the leading men impress a girl with bicycle acrobatics as Burt Bacharach plays in the background”

    Ha! Well, I think I could have done without that particular scene, or at least the Burt, but as everyone else already knows, this movie kicks ass.

    • February 17, 2011 2:48 pm

      Hahaha. Yeah, I can let that scene slide just ’cause it seems to be so iconic, but it’s definitely…different.

      Totally kicks ass though regardless.

  7. September 6, 2011 4:09 am

    Fantastic western. Especially the ending is memorable, very “heroic” & tragic. In fact much different than the rest of the movie which is more comedic. Anyway one of the best American western movies…but I still prefer Italian ones a bit more 😉

    • September 8, 2011 4:54 pm

      What an ending, huh? Their final conversation is just the best. Agree with you on both of your last points, too, but America’s got some keepers.

      • ozzy_tom permalink
        September 10, 2011 1:38 am

        I mean the last chat, running outside…and still frame :-). The rest left to audience’s imagination. Probably that’s why I always remembered that movie.

        P.S. Yes, there are also many great American westerns (“Wild Bunch” or those with Clint Eastwood in main role), but I still think Italian ones are more “stylish” 🙂

      • September 18, 2011 2:12 pm

        Totally agree with the Clint Westerns, but I still haven’t seen The Wild Bunch. I know, you don’t even have to say it. I already feel shame.

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