US Release Date: 09-23-1969
Directed by: George Roy Hill
- Paul Newman, as
- Butch Cassidy
- Robert Redford, as
- The Sundance Kid
- Katharine Ross, as
- Etta Place
- Strother Martin, as
- Percy Garris
- Henry Jones, as
- Bike Salesman
- Jeff Corey, as
- Sheriff Ray Bledsoe
- George Furth, as
- Cloris Leachman, as
- Ted Cassidy, as
- Harvey Logan
- Kenneth Mars as
Katharine Ross, Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
The box-office duo of Robert Redford and Paul Newman first struck movie gold with this 1969 Western and they do make it fun to watch. Besides being two of the most beautiful men ever born, they are both extremely talented actors and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are two of their most iconic roles.
This movie, along with Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, helped launch a new but short-lived era in the horse opera. Whereas that movie broke new ground in onscreen violence Butch Cassidy had a very modern, subversive attitude that connected with America's youth. We aren't given much background into their past or shown what events or people helped shape them into the men they became. In that sense, like Bonnie and Clyde, the bad guys are the heroes.
Today the movie holds up as a decent comedy-western with a memorable ending. But in all honesty it hasn't aged that well. The first 35 minutes are slow and rather uninteresting. It is not until the two outlaws begin to be tracked down that the story gets rolling. This builds to the famous jump into the river. Then the movie has to start all over and rebuild its momentum after the scene shifts to Bolivia.
The final thirty minutes still has punch but it is a long time coming.
Don't get me wrong, this is still a good movie. The "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" scene with Newman showing off on a bicycle for Katharine Ross while Redford sleeps, still has charm. But instead of a timeless classic it now plays more like a Sunday afternoon movie. I guess it is at that awkward in-between stage that movies go through. You know, still too new to be canonized as an immortal classic but old enough to appear really dated. Keep checking back, who knows in another 10 years I may have a completely different take on it.
Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Newman and Redford are definitely the two best things about this movie. They argue and banter like an old married couple. Butch is the thinker and planner while Sundance is the man of action. They share a terrific male chemistry and it is their interactions that keep you watching. Certainly their relationship is stronger than the one between Sundance and Etta, which doesn't do much except slow down the film.
I think the problem with the pacing is that there isn't really a strong plot, but just a series of adventures that Butch and Sundance go through. There are definitely a few scenes that could have been cut. It might be blasphemy to some, but the first scene I'd cut would be the "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" scene. It has nothing to do with the plot and it is incredibly dated at this point. It just screams the late 1960s. The other scene that could go is the photo montage of Butch, Sundance and Etta in New York on their way to Bolivia. Later, there's another montage of bank robbing and dining that could also have been trimmed.
Having said that though, there are stretches of this movie that are brilliant and classic. The extended chase scene where the duo are pursued by the unstoppable posse is a classic, ending as it does with the famous cliff jumping scene you mentioned, Patrick. There's another classic little scene where the two of them decide to go straight for a while by becoming payroll guards in Bolivia, with a scene-stealing Strother Martin. And of course the final gunfight with one of the most famous movie endings ever, is pure cinematic gold.
Without a doubt though, it is the camaraderie of Newman and Redford that make this movie work. They are charmingly handsome rogues, who, with their constant banter (Butch with his ideas, Sundance with his mocking stoicism), make you care about these villains. If not for these talented actors and a seemingly magical chemistry, this movie probably wouldn't be remembered as well as it is today.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
The value of a true movie star is when their unique presence alone is what we remember most about a movie. As my brothers wrote, this movie is weak on plot. The first part of the film is Butch and Sundance robbing, partying and getting chased. The only thing that kept my interest was the charm of the two leads but that was enough.
These two very charismatic actors are playing very charming criminals. They are even likable to the very people they rob. Butch nearly makes friends out of the book keeper on the train, despite almost blowing him up. “Butch, there is no one I would rather be robbed by than you.” The way Newman says the guy’s name, “Woodcock.” is a punch line in itself.
Both Butch and Sundance are in love with Etta. As Scott wrote, Sundance is the man of action and as such it is he who has sex with Etta while it is Butch who romances her. I like the bike riding scene. The line from the song, “Nothings worrying me” tells us just exactly how carefree these outlaws feel at this point.
That attitude changes due to the long chase by the unseen posse. Note how Butch symbolically throws the bike out before leaving for New York. One of my favorite lighter moments happens during the chase when Butch and Sundance stop by to see a sheriff for help, who is a friend of theirs. Trying to keep up appearances, the Sheriff acts offended, telling the boys, “You could at least have the decency to draw your guns.”
As Patrick wrote, the plot literally starts anew in Bolivia. It begins with a hilarious joke about the language barrier. Not only is it funny but it gives Katherine Ross something to do besides just be the object of the boys affection. One scene plays like a silent film. Etta and Sundance act like a bickering couple and convince a bank manager to show them the basement safe and open it up for them to rob without a single discernible line of dialogue.
The funniest moment in the entire film is when they hire on as payroll guards. They both act paranoid riding through the country, cautiously looking behind every tree for an ambush. That is until Strother Martin delivers his classic line, “Morons. I've got morons on my team. Nobody is going to rob us going down the mountain. We have got no money going down the mountain. When we have got the money, on the way back, then you can sweat.”
Watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is like spending time with a couple of middle aged party boys. They have some funny and exciting stories worth hearing but after a while their shallowness becomes tiresome. When pinned down and wounded by the Bolivian army they still talk about their next adventure. There is no mention of Etta, making her character pretty much superfluous. They are in dire straits but they remain as immature as they were in the very first scene.
There is much to enjoy here but, agreeing with my brothers, had it not been for the leads being played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford, this movie would have long been forgotten.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (1969)