Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) … Remembered
I’m not sure what more can be said about a defining classic like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but this 1969 movie ultimately makes you root for the bad guys. My friend asked me to watch this movie and tell her what I really thought, implying that there was more to see in this movie than the much-celebrated performances, script, and cinematography. Could there be something to criticize in this movie?
The characters played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford are robbers, but so was Robin Hood, which means it’s alright for us to like them. I think. They try to steal from just about everybody they encounter. You can see this at the beginning of the movie, where Robert Redford cons a man at cards. When accused of cheating, Newman plays good cop to Redford’s bad cop, and they carry the whole opening together.
This movie is also a western. While westerns have lost some of their longevity and popularity today, I would say that this movie has defined the buddy-drama genre more than the western genre. Most of the dialogue supports this, as Redford and Newman play off each other pretty well as they travel on horseback towards the beginning of the film and continue together throughout.
I think it is Paul Newman’s Butch character audiences might like the most, at least at the beginning of the movie, mostly because of the way his “former” gang treats him. The gang members are more conceited than even Paul Newman’s character and when they try to run him off, Butch reads a quote from the paper and reminds them that its “Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang. And that’s me, get it!”. But the rebellious big guy won’t relent, so Butch kicks him around for good measure. This is one of the better scenes in the movie.
This film also argues that a man can’t change his stars, his talents, or whatever else you want to call it. Like a laid-off man trying to change careers, Butch and Sundance lament their fate at several opportunities. When Etta (played by Katherine Ross) joins them, the dialogue between all three of them can’t get much better.
This also marks the first appearance of the amazingly cheerful song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head”, which everyone on Earth knows. It won an Oscar for best original song. Most of the young people I know recognize it from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The song celebrates Butch and Etta’s relationship as they roll around the country on a bike. I was wondering if Etta was Butch’s girl or Sundance’s, as she seems to tease both of them.
The comedy in his film is undeniably amusing. Some scenes are chuckle-worthy and some made me smile. After Butch and Sundance run off a Grandmother who wants to beat them up, they accidentally blow up their money with too much dynamite. Everything up until this point is pure gold. I even like the scenery. But my friend still whines and whines, so I guess I have to take some more time to criticize a film like this. Some people are never happy.
The middle of the movie is a bit slow. Butch and Sundance ride here. They ride there. They punch a guy and ride off, hiding from a posse trying to find them. Most of these scenes are lit dark and carried by short discussions between Butch and Sundance. They complain some more about their fate, rotten food, and other things. I’m not sure if the movie was critiquing Butch and Cassidy’s way of life at this point, but it seemed like it. The only interesting part of this lengthy section of the movie is the questioning Butch and Sundance do about who these posse guys really are. Butch complements these gunfighters, but they end up outwitting the gunfighters with even more wit, which is somewhat predictable. Was that criticism enough for ya?
This movie is also about adventure seeking. Once Butch and Sundance elude the posse, they go to every extreme to get away. My friend thought this movie had more in common with Bonnie and Clyde than Robin Hood, which is somewhat true, somewhat false. When the posse is chasing them, the audience is rooting for Butch and Sundance. They are liked. They are like everybody else. They have no real indulgences and don’t murder on sight (like Robin Hood). In fact, it is the faceless posse that seems more evil, by their very relentless, unforgiving nature. But I got that fifteen minutes into this section of the movie, which stretches on and on for another thirty or forty minutes.
As if saying that dreams aren’t everything, Butch and Sundance find that their new life in Bolivia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, most of their dreams fail or are just built up too much in their head to be real. Could this be more social commentary? We don’t explore more about that though, because Butch and Sundance rob some more people to a musical montage. Yes, a musical montage about robbing, pillaging, and making off with as much money as possible. At this point, the assassins paid for by Union Pacific are desperate to kill Butch and Sundance, just like society is desperate to stamp out anti-social behavior. Of course, this is really beyond anti-social behavior, especially when Butch and Sundance gun down some bandits holding their money.
Butch and Sundance do really try to change, but things don’t work out. Such is life, which is yet another lesson. But really, I don’t like watching this movie for its deep meaning or social commentary, but for its drama and its performances instead. The social commentary is just a bonus. Robert Redford plays the cool guy just about as good as anybody, except perhaps Clint Eastwood. All in all, the chemistry between Redford and Newman is so well-done that I hated the ending. I wanted these two to make it! I wanted them to retire to a farm or something and end the movie with some witty banter. Instead, they get hunted and finally gunned down by a posse so large that it makes an army look small.
All in all, I can see why this movie is well-regarded and popular. Society condemns our main characters, who we have grown to like, and we can see that they ultimately don’t seem to have control over their own lives. Society crushes its rebels like the posse guns down Butch and Sundance. They die because a changing world closes in on their adventures and they fail to change with it. Sorry guys.