232. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (US 1969)

                     

Director: George Roy Hill

Starring: Newman/Redford, Katherine Ross, Ted Cassidy, Jeff Corey, Cloris Leachman, Charles Dierkop (the fellow with the squashy nose from 'Police Woman'), Strother Martin

Cinematography: Conrad Hall (A big thank you to Birkenhead's Patricia Routledge!)

Music: Burt Bacharach

Script: William Goldman

FACT: In her autobiography, Diana Dors ('Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe') claimed that Paul Newman had a tiny knob.

FACT: Diana Dors' real name was Diana Fluck.

APOCRYPHA: A Swindon (Dors' home town) vicar once introduced 'budding starlet' Diana Dors as 'Diana Clunt' at a fund-raising garden party.

In one line: New methods and new technologies put an end to the activities of two western outlaws.

Summary

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid run the notorious 'Hole in the Wall Gang'. They are bank robbers who are becoming increasingly frustrated by the developing security systems introduced by the banks to combat crime. When they turn their attention to train robbing (The Union Flyer), the heads of the banks and railroads finance a 'superposse' of tough sheriffs and the best Indian trackers to seek out and eliminate the gang. Butch and Sundance are chased for hundreds of miles by the relentless law enforcers. They take the strange decision to re-locate to Bolivia - where they believe they can resume their former activities, but they fail to appreciate that big business has now become multi-national.

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is as good as its companion film The Sting is awful.

Despite playing across the vast vistas of Wyoming and elsewhere, the film often displays a deft, delicate and intimate touch. Ross excepted (who's a bit wooden to say the least), the cast play their roles expertly and skip from comedy to drama with ease. Usually the term 'action/comedy' is both an oxymoron and a signal to avoid the film like the plague (it usually means the cast enjoying themselves whilst all but the dimmest, most easily-pleased spectators can see through the artifice, and a group of actors being paid to take their jollies and go on the piss - Oceans 11, 12, 13 etc being 'good examples), but it's easy to 'root' for the main protagonists in this film because the director evokes a genuine sense of danger and it's easy for an audience to identify with characters who are running out of options and the sense of freedom, as the machinations of big business threaten to destroy their world. Maybe this is a bit Marxism Today, but who hasn't experienced that 'Butch and Sundance Moment' when they've fallen behind with their Freeman's catalogue payments?

Under-rated director George Roy Hill was another American film maker who was influenced by the possibilities for film opened up by the French New Wave. The film has a 'playful' element to it, and many of the rules of conventional genre film making are disregarded with musical interludes, comic sketches and  unusual montages punctuating the narrative. The shifting relationship between the female and two male lead characters is strongly reminiscent of Jules and Jim, and Goldman's screenplay is filled with many clever post-modern touches which take the film away from its immediate western-genre confines.

One of the main themes of the film is the unstoppable nature of technological progress. When Butch and Sundance think that they have conquered the most up to date bank security systems, a new, improved system is put in place. The 'superposse' is the reaction of 'big business' to the small-scale 'entrepreneurial' activities of the 'Hole in the Wall' gang.

When Butch and Sundance are on the run from their pursuers, they try to hide in a house belonging to former outlaw Ray Bledsoe (played by the excellent Jeff Corey - one of the bit part players in The Devil and Daniel Webster). Bledsoe is now an ageing sheriff. He gives them shelter for a while, but tells them  that they can never out-run the superposse. It is inevitable that they will be hunted down and killed. He tells them that they may be the two most charismatic 'villains' in the west, but the economic powers of big business and their use of new technologies have rendered them anachronisms. There is no place for the individual, the iconoclast or the maverick in the modern world. In many ways, this sentiment echoes the themes of John Boorman's excellent Point Blank, where Lee Marvin's Walker finds out that all the old criminals have been replaced by multi-national corporations.

Besides a truly horrible sepia tinted montage scene which outlines the flight of Butch, Etta (Ross) and Sundance from the old west to New York and then on  to Bolivia (and an even worse montage one of Butch and Sundance reverting to their old ways featuring a hideous Burt Bacarachian/Swingle Singers 'babada' soundtrack), this is a fairly flawless film. It may have elements of the French New Wave and the masked socialist messages of the old Warner gangster films, but this is primarily a big, blockbuster film which unashamedly uses the Hollywood star system to tell a much more important story than that of two outlaws on the run.

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An outstanding film and a western for people who don't like westerns.

8.5/10

 

 ste@saintvespaluus.com