|Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross
Director: George Roy Hill
By the end of the 1960s, the Western was practically dead. Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (widely considered to be one of the last great films in the genre) had just premiered, and John Wayne, who spent a career playing hard-edged cowboys, was but a few film roles away from retiring his six shooters. And if the Western was on the brink of total collapse, then George Roy Hill’s “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” was the one that delivered the final blow. A curious statement to make, really, but the film is so untraditionally Western that, while it does take place in the Wild West, seems to turn the genre up on its head with every chance it gets.
The movie is actually divided into two parts. The first half of the film takes place in the West, with Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) leading his Hole-in-the-Wall gang across the country as they rob banks and blow open train safes, but when the Pacific railroad company hires a “superposse” (supposedly the Pinkertons) to track down and kill the gang of bandits, Butch and his longtime friend Sundance (Robert Redford) hightail it to Bolivia to start anew. This is where the second half of the story picks up, and though the gun-slinging duo try and stick to the straight-and-narrow, they’re inevitably lured back into the high stakes world of robbing banks where, this time, they might not get out alive.
Because the film is divided into two separate stories – bridged by a musical pictographic montage – it’s difficult to analyze it as one entity, and where the first half succeeds with a healthy mix of action and comedy, the second half fails miserably. This is, of course, until the final shootout between Butch, Sundance and the Bolivian army, and though the scenes in South America are drastically slower-paced, it’s hard to presume that an on-screen duo better than Newman and Redford exists. The story is definitely lacking in some areas, but the chemistry between the two actors never falters. One could even go out on a limb by saying that “Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid” set the benchmark for buddy action-comedies to come, but there would never be another film that comes even close to exuding the same kind of charm Newman and Redford deliver in their roles.
Perhaps most unusual about the film, however, is the pop-induced soundtrack by Burt Bacharach. Those wondering where the producers of “A Knight’s Tale” got the idea to score modern music in a period piece needn’t look any further. Featuring songs like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” (which, coincidentally, won the Academy Award for Best Song), the selection of music is so incredibly absurd that, somehow, it works. The rest of the movie follows suit with this theme of nonconformity, and while memorable scenes like the classic shootout (see “Way of the Gun”) continue to be imitated in contemporary cinema, there’s nothing quite like seeing it for the first time.
For once, Fox’s shady double-dip marketing strategy has finally paid off. Not only does the film actually deserve a worthy special edition, but it’s also the ultimate collector’s item that it claims to be. Bringing over all of the same bonus material from the original DVD release (including an audio commentary with director George Roy Hill and a 45-minute making-of documentary), the new two-disc set also features a second commentary track with screenwriter William Goldman, a deleted scene and brand new interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross and Burt Bacharach.
The second disc of the set features most of the new extras, including the historical featurette “The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of Butch and Sundance” and the excellent 35-minute documentary “All of What Follows Is True: The Making of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.” Also included on the disc is the aged television featurette “History Through the Lens: Outlaws Out of Time” and old cast/crew interviews from 1994, but they just repeat a lot of the same material from the new extras.