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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Starring: Robert Redford, Paul Newman
Director: George Roy Hill
Rated: PG
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: October 1964
Genres: Classic, Action, Western, Drama

*Also starring: Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, George Furth, Cloris Leachman, Jeff Corey, Ted Cassidy, Kenneth Mars

Review by Dragan Antulov
3 stars out of 4

Some films, criminal psychopaths and some politicians like con men have something in common - they are likeable, but not as good as their likeability or popularity would indicate. In the history of cinema there are plenty of example of films being immensely popular despite not being able to withstand criticism. One BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, 1969 western directed by George Roy Hill, is one of such films.

The plot of the film is loosely based on the real life characters of Robert Leroy Parker a.k.a. Butch Cassidy (played by Paul Newman) and Henry Longabaugh a.k.a. Sundance Kid (played by Robert Redford), two outlaws whose "Hole in the Wall" gang used to terrorise American West in late 1890s. Butch is brain and the leader of the gang, while mostly silent Sundance is good only with his guns. Two of them are nevertheless good team, but all their skills can't save them from changes in the West that would make their way of life impossible. Railroads and telegraphs are everywhere, banks and trains are better protected, and, finally, authorities can afford to have the team of the most experienced lawmen and bounty hunters, specially assembled to hunt down Butch and Sundance - bandits who just happen to be the last of their kind. After barely surviving encounter with this "superposse", Butch and Sundance decide to quit and two of them, accompanied by Sundance's girlfriend Etta Place (played by Katharine Ross) head to Bolivia. There two of them succumb to their instincts and restart their bank-robbing career, but Bolivia in the end proves even less hospitable for American outlaws than the Old West.

From the distance of three decades, it is sometimes hard to see what was so special about BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID and its popularity could be best explained by self-perpetuating myth (that even influenced critics, initially cold towards George Roy Hill's film). There are some good elements in this film, most notably in William Goldsman's script, which provided good combination of real history and fiction and turned two relatively obscure figures of Old West into "larger than life" mythical heroes, while injecting enough humour and irony to make them look human. Paul Newman is also wonderful in the role of Butch, while Redford is also effective in the role of second fiddle, which, ironically, turned him into major Hollywood star. Two of them have good chemistry together and make great "buddy buddy" pairing that would be repeated few years later in STING. Photographer Conrad Hall is also good in the use of sepia tones that give nostalgic, almost ethereal tone to this film. Finally, George Roy Hill shows great skill in the chase scenes at the middle of the film. By never showing faces of the pursuers and portraying our protagonists as scared and powerless against force that they can't fathom, Hill in this segment perfectly condensed the end-of-the-era feeling used in many late 1960s westerns.

Unfortunately, this chase is only one segment of the film. Beginning and the end are not only weaker in comparison, but BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID often looks incoherent, sometimes even like it was patched up from many different movies. This is especially evident in legendary bicycle scene, which features popular Burt Bacharach song (which stands out of otherwise unremarkable soundtrack), but otherwise doesn't serve any meaningful purpose in the film. Some interesting supporting characters appear in the film only to be easily disposed off, while character of Etta Place is played by incredibly bland Katharine Ross. And the main theme of the film - our heroes' inability to adapt to rapidly changing world - is not sufficiently explained to the modern audience who could hardly distinguish 1860s and 1900s versions of American West. The final segment of the film looks incredibly boring and overlong, especially for those who know (and can't wait for) the ending.

Because of these flaws, it could be argued that its immense popularity in 1969 had more to do with a film being in tune with popular sentiments than being remarkably good by its own merit. Young audience, which had just experienced youthful rebellion of 1960s, sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and was suddenly forced to cut hair, wear ties and look for jobs, probably identified with the heroes faced with the fact that their adolescent fairytale existence of outlaws came to an end. Film that featured two mythical figures meeting their end in Bolivia also struck a chord with the audience that viewed Che Guevara as their idol. Newer generations of the viewers would probably miss this dimension of BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, but they could still enjoy it as a stylish Hollywood entertainment, albeit unworthy of its near-mythical status.

Copyright 2002 Dragan Antulov

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