Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
and the Sundance Kid
film poster by Tom Beauvais
|Directed by||George Roy Hill|
|Produced by||John Foreman|
|Written by||William Goldman|
|Music by||Burt Bacharach (music)
Hal David (lyrics)
|Cinematography||Conrad L. Hall|
|Edited by||John C. Howard
Richard C. Meyer
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Running time||112 minutes|
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a 1969 American Western film directed by George Roy Hill and written by William Goldman (who won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the film). Based loosely on fact, the film tells the story of Wild West outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker, known to history as Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and his partner Harry Longabaugh, the "Sundance Kid" (Robert Redford) as they migrate to Bolivia while on the run from the law in search of a more successful criminal career. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
In late 1890s Wyoming, Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) is the affable, clever, talkative leader of the outlaw Hole in the Wall Gang. His closest companion is the laconic dead-shot "Sundance Kid" (Robert Redford). The two return to their hideout at Hole-in-the-Wall to discover that the rest of the gang, irked at Butch's long absences, have selected Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy) as their new leader. Harvey challenges Butch to a knife fight over the gang's leadership. Butch defeats him using trickery, but embraces his idea to rob the Union Pacific Overland Flyer train on both its eastward and westward runs, agreeing that the second robbery would be unexpected and likely reap even more money than the first.
The first robbery goes well. To celebrate, Butch and Sundance visit a favorite brothel in a nearby town and watch, amused, as the town sheriff (Kenneth Mars) unsuccessfully attempts to organize a posse to track down the gang. They then visit Sundance's lover, schoolteacher Etta Place (Katharine Ross). On the second train robbery, Butch uses too much dynamite to blow open the safe, blowing up the baggage car. As the gang scrambles to gather up the money, a second train arrives carrying a six-man team of lawmen after Butch and Sundance, who unsuccessfully try to hide out in the brothel and to seek amnesty from the friendly Sheriff Bledsoe (Jeff Corey). As the posse remains in pursuit despite all attempts to elude them, Butch and Sundance determine that the group includes renowned Indian tracker "Lord Baltimore" and relentless lawman Joe LeFors, recognizable by his white skimmer. Butch and Sundance finally elude their pursuers by jumping from a cliff into a river far below. They learn from Etta that the posse has been paid by Union Pacific head E. H. Harriman to remain on their trail until Butch and Sundance are both killed.
Butch persuades Sundance and Etta that the three should escape to Bolivia, which Butch envisions as a robber's paradise. On their arrival there, Sundance is dismayed by the living conditions and regards the country with contempt, but Butch remains optimistic. They discover that they know too little Spanish to pull off a bank robbery, so Etta attempts to teach them the language. With her as an accomplice, they become successful bank robbers known as Los Bandidos Yanquis. However, their confidence drops when they see a man wearing a white skimmer and fear that Harriman's posse is still after them.
Butch suggests "going straight", and he and Sundance land their first honest job as payroll guards for a mining company. However, they are ambushed by local bandits on their first run and their boss, Percy Garris (Strother Martin), is killed. Butch and Sundance ambush and kill the bandits, the first time Butch has ever shot someone. Concluding that the straight life isn't for them, they return to robbery, but Etta decides to return to the United States.
Butch and Sundance steal a payroll and the mules carrying it, and arrive in a small town. A boy recognizes the mules' brand and alerts the local police, leading to a gunfight with the outlaws. They take cover in a building, but are both seriously wounded after Butch makes a futile attempt to run to the mules in order to bring more ammunition while Sundance provides cover fire. As dozens of Bolivian soldiers surround the area, Butch suggests the duo's next destination should be Australia. The film ends with a freeze frame shot on the pair charging out of the building, guns blazing, as the Bolivian forces fire repeatedly on them.
The world premiere of the movie was in September 1969, at the Roger Sherman Theater, in New Haven, Connecticut. The premiere was attended by Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Redford, George Roy Hill, William Goldman, and John Forman, among others.
William Goldman first came across the story of Butch Cassidy in the late 1950s and researched it on and off for eight years before sitting down to write the screenplay. Goldman:
The whole reason I wrote the... thing, there is that famous line that Scott Fitzgerald wrote, who was one of my heroes, 'There are no second acts in American lives.' When I read about Cassidy and Longbaugh and the superposse coming after them - that's phenomenal material. They ran to South America and lived there for eight years and that was what thrilled me: they had a second act. They were more legendary in South America than they had been in the old West... It's a great story. Those two guys and that pretty girl going down to South America and all that stuff. It just seems to me it's a wonderful piece of material.
Goldman says he wrote the story as an original screenplay because he did not want to do the research to make it authentic as a novel.
Goldman says when he first wrote the script and sent it out, only one studio wanted to buy it - and that was on the proviso that the two lead characters did not go to South America. When Goldman protested that that's what happened, the studio head responded, "I don't give a shit. All I know is John Wayne don't run away."
Goldman rewrote it, "didn't change it more than a few pages, and for reasons passing understanding every studio wanted it."
According to the supplemental material on the Blu-ray disc release, the script, originally called The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy, was purchased by Richard Zanuck at 20th Century Fox for $400,000, double the price the studio's board of directors had authorized.
The role of Sundance was offered to Jack Lemmon, whose production company, JML, had produced the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke starring Newman. Lemmon, however, turned down the role; he did not like riding horses, and he also felt he had already played too many aspects of the Sundance Kid's character before.
The response of major American movie reviewers was widely favorable. Rotten Tomatoes, a film review aggregator counted 89% of critical reviews as favorable. Newman's and Redford's chemistry was praised as was the film's charm and humor.
Time magazine said the film's two male stars are "afflicted with cinematic schizophrenia. One moment they are sinewy, battered remnants of a discarded tradition. The next they are low comedians whose chaffing relationship—and dialogue—could have been lifted from a Batman and Robin episode." Time also criticized the film's score as absurd and anachronistic.
Roger Ebert's review of the movie was a mixed 2.5 out of 4 stars. "The movie starts promisingly... a scene where Butch puts down a rebellion in his gang [is] one of the best things in the movie... And then we meet Sundance's girlfriend, played by Katharine Ross, and the scenes with the three of them have you thinking you've wandered into a really first-rate film." But after Harriman hires his posse, Ebert thought the movie's quality declined: "Hill apparently spent a lot of money to take his company on location for these scenes, and I guess when he got back to Hollywood he couldn't bear to edit them out of the final version. So the Super-posse chases our heroes unceasingly, until we've long since forgotten how well the movie started." The dialogue in the final scenes is "so bad we can't believe a word anyone says. And then the violent, bloody ending is also a mistake; apparently it was a misguided attempt to copy "Bonnie and Clyde...." we don't believe it, and we walk out of the theater wondering what happened to that great movie we were seeing until an hour ago."
The film earned $15 million in rentals in North America during its first year of release.
With US box office of over US$100 million, it was the top grossing film of the year. Adjusted for inflation, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ranks among the 100 top-grossing movies of all time and the top 10 for its decade, due in part to subsequent re-releases.
Awards and nominations
The film won four Academy Awards: Best Cinematography; Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (not a Musical); Best Music, Song (Burt Bacharach and Hal David for "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head"); and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay Based on Material Not Previously Published or Produced. It was also nominated for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Sound (William Edmondson and David Dockendorf).
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also won numerous British Academy Film Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor (won by Redford though Newman was also nominated), and Best Actress for Katharine Ross, among others.
William Goldman won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay.
In 1979, a prequel, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days was released by 20th Century Fox and was directed by Richard Lester. The film received mixed reviews and was a box office failure, but was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
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- A slice of Lemmon for extra character, Bob Flynn, Panorama, p. 7, The Canberra Times, August 15, 1998
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- "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
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- "Alias Smith and Jones". Retrieved 2006-12-09.
- "Shanghai Noon". Retrieved 2006-12-09.
- Mark Holcom (October 5, 2011). "Butch Cassidy is Alive and Well and Living in Blackthorn". Village Voice. Retrieved 2011-10-19.
- MAD #136 July 1970 at MAD cover site.
- Egan, Sean, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, Bear Manor Media 2014
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