Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

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In a year that saw that release of True Grit and The Wild Bunch, you’d have to be something special to stand out between these titans of the western genre – cue the sight of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid confidently trotting into town while exchanging effortless banter that emerged as quite possibly the most charismatic western ever made.
Essentially a prototype for every slick, self deprecating double act we see in countless buddy movie double acts to this day (for example, where would Shane Black be without this kind of banter), Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s dusty bromance has become that of legend, but is the film that it’s situated in actually held up over the years as well as the lively backchat?

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Ideas man Butch Cassidy runs the Hole In The Wall Gang with sheer self confidence while his buddy, the quieter, sharpshooting Sundance Kid gives him the backup he needs when the other members of the gang begin to get restless. On top of this, Butch and Sundance’s relationship is further cemented by Butch’s close friendship with Sundance’s girlfriend, school teacher, Etta Place and this bond has forges lifelong friendship that’s left the duo virtually inseparable.
But when a couple of back to back train robberies puts the Hole In The Wall Gang in the sights of Union Pacific honcho E. H. Harriman, they discover the hard way that he’s put together a lethal posse that contains famous Native American tracker Lord Baltimore and notorious lawman Joe Lefors to stamp them out once and for all and Butch and Sundance are relentlessly pursued literally for days, only managing to lose them by hurling themselves off a cliff in desperation.
Taking this time to reassess their lives, Butch suggests that they move to Bolivia in order to begin anew and take Etta with them to start their new lives, but after finding out that it’s hardly the land of milk and honey and a brief stint where they try going straight and getting jobs on for size, they soon relapse into their old bank robbing days.
However, it soon becomes apparent that the way the law operates in Bolivia isn’t quite as tolerant as it is back home and Butch and Sundance find that their time – both literally and figuratively – is coming to an end and the west is moving on from the days of outlaws and train robbers.
Unable (and kind of unwilling) to move with the changing times, if these two amiable outlaws aren’t careful, progression is going to leave them in the dust – real permanent like.

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The reason Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid emerged over the years as a top tier western is ironically because it chooses to fling most of the classic western tropes to one side in order to give a modernized view of an established genre (modern for 1969 at least). This is never more evident than in the central relationship which proves to be one of the most fascinating to this day as the iron clad chemistry between Newman and Redford may truly be one of the greatest double acts in movie history. Relationships between males in westerns are usually arms-length, begrudging friendships born of mutual respect, but here our two leads are way more intimate, in fact Sundance is often more intimate with Butch than he is with Etta while Butch as the “friend” is far more playful with the schoolteacher than her boyfriend is. It’s a fascinating view of masculinity in that, the most masculine of genres and it feels incredibly modern, even today, influencing every buddy movie relationship that came since. Lethal Weapon, Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Turner And Hooch – Fuck, even The Road To Eldorado has it in spades. Virtually everything that emerges from their mouths is pure genius (“I can’t swim!”- “Why you crazy, the fall will probably kill you!”; “I’ll go.” – “This is no time for bravery – I’ll let you.”) and Redford and Newman exchange their world class, rat-ta-tat-tat banter right up until the final, iconic, heartbreaking moment. But cool dialogue aside, how does the movie itself hold up? Pretty damn good as it happens as the movie has a similar message as fellow 1969 bullet spitters The Wild Bunch and True Grit in that it’s dealing with men who are being willfully left behind by progress as the time for their law breaking shenanigans rapidly ticks away. When presented with the hot new gadget of the future, a bicycle, Butch’s instinct is to fool around on it to the iconic strains of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling On Your Head” (tougher to take seriously these days after it’s use in Spider-Man 2) and even though Butch is a man of vision, he’s not particularly great with innovation, constantly falling back into bad habits when plans don’t work. Watch the pair clumbsily try to rob a Bolivian bank with a Spanish cheat sheet because they’re unable to learn the lingo or constantly underrate the trains they rob or the men they have to avoid.
Much like Pike Bishop and his aging gang at the climax of The Wild Bunch, the movie ends with a harsh reality check as our heroes run smack bang into a hail of bullets, but while the final shootout wisely doesn’t try to match Peckenpah’s bombastic finale, its use of a tragically humourous final line (“For a moment there I thought we were in trouble.”) and a flawless use of freeze frame may be the poignant of them all.
It’s interesting that a movie that approaches the western with such a modern attitude is still incredibly nostalgic about how things used to be and director George Roy Hill obviously has a taste for it, reuniting with Newman And Redford years later for the even chattier The Sting and with Newman a third time for raucous hockey comedy Slap Shot – all of which keep that razor sharp dialogue.

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Incredibly likable from the off, there’s nevertheless western fans out there who find it’s stylised view of the west as an affront to the genre, but it’s precisely this fresh, romanticized approach that make Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid so effortlessly enjoyable.
Like Butch himself states early on: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”
Boy, ain’t that the truth.
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

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