Wyoming, early 1900s. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid are the leaders of a band of outlaws. After a train robbery goes wrong they find themselves on the run with a posse hard on their heels. Their solution – escape to Bolivia.
As we all know, from the time I watched The Wild Bunch, I do not like westerns. I have a hard time staying awake during them. Seriously, the easiest way to get me to fall asleep is to put on a western. HOWEVER, for whatever reason, that has never been the case with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I don’t know if it’s the comedy element in the film or the fact that I get to look at Paul Newman and Robert Redford for nearly two hours but, whatever it is, this one, I’m awake for.
New Hollywood, or the American New Wave, is my favorite period of film history. During the mid-1960s, the studio system had fallen apart, and the younger generation was taking over. And with that take over came a ton of anti-establishment, “stick it to the man”-type films that I adore (Easy Rider, The Graduate, Blade Runner, just to name a few). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of those films. What was unique about the film at the time is that the main characters are the bad guys, just like in Bonnie and Clyde (and Bonnie and Clyde had caused a major uproar at its studio, at the time, for that very reason). It scared the studios to have the bad guys be the main focus of the film. The audience isn’t supposed to root for the bad guy. But, as we all know, there really is no bad or good, just a large grey area. And soon studios were finding that audiences at the time loved the “bad guys” as the main focus of the films, as they did have qualities that the audience could relate to.
Honestly, I would say that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a buddy drama before anything else. The chemistry of Newman and Redford is unbelievable. They play off of each other so well, and really do give the feeling of having been friends for years. Their back and forth banter is my absolute favorite. Whether it’s Butch telling Sundance that he’s stealing his woman, or Sundance telling Butch that he’d rather face gunfire than jump into a river because he can’t swim, it just all feels so natural. And, I think that’s both in part to the actor’s chemistry, but also the writing of the film.
William Goldman won the Academy Award for writing the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and rightfully so. The film also had won the Academy Awards for Cinematography, Original Song, and Original Score. This film is where the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” comes from, and it’s placed in one of my favorite sequences in the film: the bicycle montage. If you have not seen it, please watch it. It makes for such a wonderfully happy moment in the film. And, that greatly contrasts with the ending.
I have always found the score for this film to be…odd. Odd only because it is a very 1960s/1970s sounding score placed in a film about outlaws in the old west. But, the score brings the story to the modern days of the 60s. The film constantly draws comparison’s to the time in history that it was actually released, the biggest one being the constant talk of an ending; an end of an era. Not only was there an end of an era in Hollywood, but the United States was going through a similar change in the 1960s.
The end of this film, I can only describe in one way: perfectly heartbreaking. Etta Place, played by the wonderful Katharine Ross, had said that she would follow Sundance wherever he wanted, but she would not watch him die. Towards the end of the film, as they are all on the run from the Bolivian police and sleeping by a fire, Etta says that she’s going to return home ahead of Sundance and Butch. The feeling that hangs in the air is a heavy one, as everybody silently acknowledges what that means. There’s no getting out of this one. They’re going to die. And, when that moment comes, when both men have been shot by the Bolivian Police, and the Army has now, unbeknownst to Butch and Sundance, surrounded them, they leave the safety of the building and run out, guns blazing. The screen freezes on them before their final moments, before a single bullet hits them. All we hear now is the audio of the gunfire and the yelling of all the men. It was the right choice. It is a truly genius ending.