Butch and Sundance is more than a Western: It's an iconic, American experience, a classic adventure tale, and a singular slice of late-'60s moviemaking that has never really been repeated. The story is a surprisingly, "mostly" accurate tale of two of history's best-known outlaws. The film comprises two major sequences: First, the duo robs a series of trains on the frontier, then spends a lengthy amount of time on the run from the hired guns the railroad is paying to hunt them down. The heat gets so severe that it leads them to the second sequence: Self-imposed exile to dingy Bolivia, where they rob banks instead, only to have the federales try to hunt them down. The final moments of the film are unforgettable.
Director George Roy Hill uniting of Paul Newman (Butch) and Robert Redford (Sundance) is magically delicious. (He'd repeat that with The Sting, several years later.) The way they play off of each other is nothing short of perfect, and the addition of Katharine Ross as Sundance's girlfriend is like icing on the cake. She's tolerant and patient, the perfect counterpart to the brash men she has to contend with... when they can be bothered to spend time at home, that is.
I'd be remiss in not mentioning the unforgettable, clipped, Mamet-like dialogue courtesy of one of William Goldman's finest screenplays. Every line in Butch and Sundance is sharply honed down to its meaty essentials, and not a line is wasted. There's a small sense of stiltedness in the lingo, but, as with Mamet, that somehow makes it more compelling, more real. It makes you yearn for the characters to say more, instead of, as with most films, wishing they'd just shut up.
Then there's the score from, of all people, Burt Bacharach. "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" got its start in this movie, which even today is bafflingly inappropriate for a film about gunslingers and train bandits. And yet it's now become so intertwined into the film, along with the jangly piano soundtrack, that it somehow seems to fit. In 1969 this may have bothered audiences looking for a grittier version of the old West, but combined with a face like Ross's and Goldman's dripping, wry pen, it somehow works. Today the score is memorable if only because it is so very different.
As for the historical accuracy of the film, not much is known for certain about the fate of Butch and Sundance, but the film does seem to live up to its promise that it's mostly true. The only real liberty is in the way Butch and Sundance went out of this world: The real-life consensus is that, surrounded by Bolivian police, they committed suicide.
But that would be a sad end for such a classic, classic film.
Fans and newcomers are highly encouraged to check out the new special edition DVD. Disc one has separate commentaries from Hill and Goldman. Disc two is packed with extras: Numerous making-of and retrospective documentaries, trailers, and a deleted scene (which, tragically, is without sound). Highly recommended.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 24th October 1969
Box Office Worldwide: $102.3M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Campanile Productions, Newman-Foreman Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 5
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: George Roy Hill
Producer: John Foreman
Screenwriter: William Goldman
Starring: Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy, Robert Redford as 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 Woodcock, Cloris Leachman as Agnes, Ted Cassidy as Harvey Logan, Kenneth Mars as Marshal, Donnelly Rhodes as Macon, Jody Gilbert as Large Woman, Timothy Scott as News Carver, Don Keefer as Fireman, Charles Dierkop as Flat Nose Curry, Pancho Córdova as Bank Manager, Nelson Olmsted as Photographer, Paul Bryar as Card Player #1, Sam Elliott as Card Player #2, Charles Akins as Bank Teller, Eric Sinclair as Tiffany's Salesman
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