Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Dir. George Roy Hill
Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross

A classic western depicting the final days of Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford), as the train robbers flee to Bolivia to escape the law.
One of the hallmarks of a well made movie that is based on true events is that it successfully entertains the audience, even if you know how things are going to end up for the characters. Putting fun characters in entertaining situations makes the journey worth taking, even when the destination is the ending one of the more famous bandits that the American west had seen. Knowing this fact doesn't impact the enjoyment of the film. Hell the original poster of the movie is (spoiler) the last shot of the film. But Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is just an extremely entertaining film, and western or not, it is one of the greatest films of all time.

The movie fits in to the buddy comedy mold, showing Butch and Sundance to be easy going friends who just want to keep on going through life stealing some money and getting by. But the film is interesting due to the two sides it keeps showing. Parts of the movie are cool and fun, with the 2 having their adventures and delivering amazing dialogue. The movie is a hang out movie, one that you watch not only to see the story, but also to hang out with the fun characters. Much like Rio Bravo or the Steven Soderbergh Ocean’s movies, the film is fronted by characters that are just fun to watch. This is directly due to the great casting of the leads. The film simply wouldn’t work without the chemistry between Redford and Newman, and 

But there are other scenes that give the movie a sense of melancholy, ruminating on their eventual end, and the end of the west. This is something that is noticeable from the beginning of the film, with the 20th Century Fox logo presented in Sepia tone leading into a newsreel about the exploits of the duo. It paints them as an old legend, and it’s fitting that the portion of the story that would feature the characters at their happiest in New York is also presented in a similar way*. They are happy, but their natural inclination towards crime wouldn't allow them to go the straight and narrow. But ultimately this movie is about endings. The film constantly has characters telling the leads that their time is up, and how they don’t have a place in the new world. Etta tells Sundance “I won't watch you die. I'll miss that scene if you don't mind”, which is why she eventually leaves them in Bolivia. The only two that don’t seem to realize it are Butch and Sundance, or else you’d like to hope that they would make a better attempt to stay straight. And even those attempts weren’t going to last. Butch says that he doesn’t want to be a farmer because it would cause him to have to work hard, so he goes back to what’s easy, robbing people. But every time that they try them backslide, fulfilling Bledsoe’s earlier line “Your times is over and you're going to die bloody. And all you can do is choose where". And the ending, with the iconic freeze frame featured on the poster, doesn’t feel glamorous to me. It feels sad, but at the same time it's the only way that their story could end. So ignore what Roger Ebert said, about how the ending "doesn't belong". Aside from the fact that it was the actual end for the two, the movie telegraphs it in way that makes sense**. 

And there’s the Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head scene, which should feel cheesy, but it works and it feels fun. It helps that it is a great song, but the scene just puts a smile on my face just thinking about it. 

And something needs to be said about Katherine Ross as Etta Place. It would be easy for the role to be kind of wet blanket, with her constantly trying to constantly bring down the two outlaws with her legitimate concerns for their well being. But she plays the role in a way that while she seems fun, but she can't bear to see these two men that she loves continue on their path to doom. She plays the role with a sense of fun and warmth, and when she leaves it has impact. 

This is one of the greats. It doesn’t really fit in the traditional western mold, but that’s one of the things that is great about the film. It's a must see for anyone, western or not. 

*I know that it was originally meant to be a scripted scene, and was turned into a montage of still images because they were denied usage of the stages built for Hello Dolly for anything other than still photography. But this helped the film in my opinion.

**I like Roger Ebert's writing on film, but this is one of those times when he was extremely wrong about a film.

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