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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Crime Drama and Western Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: October 24th, 1969 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: George Roy Hill Actors: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Henry Jones, Jeff Corey, George Furth, Cloris Leachman, Ted Cassidy, Kenneth Mars

A

s if composed of aging footage from the time of the real bandits, the film opens in sepia tones, with Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) scoping out a bank while the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) plays blackjack in a saloon. After the Kid proves his skills with a pistol, the photography shifts into full color, segueing to the duo riding through a canyon and discussing a change in locale. When they return to their hideout, “The Hole in the Wall Gang” greets them with a challenge for new leadership by the towering Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy). But Cassidy is too crafty and squirrelly to let his group commit mutiny; not only does he thwart Logan’s hopeful succession, he also steals his idea to hold up the Union Pacific train as it travels both to and from the nearby town.

In between jobs, the primary duo parties and drinks at a whorehouse and visits Sundance’s lover Etta Place (Katharine Ross, introduced in an uncomfortably unique piece of misdirection that begins like a rape scene), while also enjoying the general fear and minimal opposition their striking reputation affords them. But the authorities eventually tire of the threat and send a legion of relentless bounty hunters (“Who are those guys?”) to disrupt their hijackings. Chased across the state and eventually cornered, Cassidy and the Kid decide to finally make their way to Bolivia (with Etta in tow) – a place they believe will let them start fresh (but still on the wrong side of the law).

The film certainly glamorizes the criminals, not unlike the initial capers in “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), where playful adventure and lighthearted daredevilry overshadow death, destruction, and realistic victims (leading to one of the most famous scenes – a harrowing leap from a waterfall). The antiheroes (if they can even be considered that gray) aren’t coldblooded and ruthless, but rather whimsical, good-natured, fun-loving, and practically gentlemanly in their heists. They prefer to ride a bicycle (resulting in another one of the most iconic sequences – a frivolous montage to the catchy “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” which is part of a supremely odd yet pleasing soundtrack), laugh at their mistakes, and remain surprisingly calm and chatty while being pursued. They’re not even afraid of bullets, regarding mortality as something of a joke, and their felonies aren’t deadly endeavors but comical misadventures, as if attaining money was just a lucky side effect of planning excitingly fulfilling robberies. These are the most casual crooks ever depicted on film.

Through all their risk-taking and daringness, Cassidy and the Kid never forget to trade witty remarks and humorous commentary, further embellishing their evident disregard for the severity of the situations (William Goldman’s original screenplay is often heralded as one of the most innovative of the ‘60s) and the irony of eventual employment as payroll guards. This stubbornness to face facts mirrors one of the major themes, as seen in “Monte Walsh” and “The Wild Bunch,” concerning the setting of the lawless West drawing to an inevitable close, and the likes of these affable outlaws no longer having a place in the rapidly civilizing world. The bicycle, though a small bit of technology, clearly represents an evolving country and the necessity for Cassidy and the Kid to adapt to a different life. Their failure to adjust and their fated inability to break free from their professions ultimately lead to the tragic, unforgettable conclusion – itself a touch of the significant cinematic artistry involved in this most unusual, quirky, eccentric Western biography.

– Mike Massie

 



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