Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Photo: 20th Century Fox

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

"If he'd just pay me what he's spending to make me stop robbing him, I'd stop robbing him." - Butch Cassidy 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the first "grown-up movie" I remember seeing as a young kid. I am sure my parents dragged me to it, and I bet I wasn't thrilled about it. But I remember being completely blown away.

In watching Butch Cassidy, I remember that the cinematography was gorgeous (oh, those mountains), and the gunslingers (played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford) were funny, cool, and magnetic. It was the first time I realized that movies could take you to another world. Butch Cassidy was like Star Wars for me (that George Lucas masterpiece was still eight years away). I went back to see it again and again. Over 50 years later, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid still holds up as a fantastic movie.

From the very start, with the soft, nostalgic music and the old-time movie reel footage, it is clear that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is not your typical western. Cast with immensely likable actors (Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross) and shot in lush, romantic colors, the film is warm. Elegant. Almost lyrical. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the quintessential "western for those that don't like westerns."

The movie is relatively light in tone for a Western (there are no macho "This town isn't big enough for the both us" declarations or shootouts at high noon), yet it solidly captures all of the spirit and romance of the old west. Directed by George Roy Hill, Butch Cassidy brought Paul Newman and Robert Redford together as the legendary outlaws, and one of the silver screen's greatest "bromances" was born. The chemistry between the smart-aleck Cassidy and the cerebral, ironic Sundance Kid is electric.

A love triangle is set up in Butch Cassidy with the incredible Katharine Ross (as Etta, Sundance's girlfriend), and it is truly a beautiful thing to see. The three of them seem to love each other with equal devotion. Ross is always a force on-screen, and her work is worthy of re-discovery; she is an underappreciated actor in many ways. The love triangle in the film is tender, not tense, and it works both ways - Etta and Butch accept it. In fact, they even discuss whether they would have been involved if they had met before Sundance. Butch and Sundance are joined together as best pals, so they are a trio, as simple as that.

Ross seems to accept the triangle, and the danger, noting that they provide more excitement than she would ever receive as a schoolteacher, but it is clear that Etta is also a substitute mother to the two men. She quips that she "will darn their socks and cook their meals," but the last thing she will do is watch them die ." This scene is pivotal, and it lands with such subtle impact it is a testament to the deft screenplay, one that was nominated for an Academy Award.

The cinematography by Conrad Hall and the beautiful scenery of Wyoming combine for a gorgeous look. The music by Burt Bacharach (including the classic B.J. Thomas hit "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head") is light and playful, then sentimental and romantic. And thank goodness, because a traditional country western music soundtrack would have killed what can be described as a modern western. The gentle style of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid effectively makes the criminals loveable, the crimes humorous, and in the end, it is impossible not to root for the leads as they retreat.

The casting of Redford and Newman is iconic in the "buddy picture" genre, but it is interesting to note that many others were considered before the filmmakers settled on this pair. Reportedly Newman and Steve McQueen were both signed up simultaneously, but McQueen allegedly backed out of the role as Sundance due to disagreements with Newman. As great as Steve McQueen was, Redford was the perfect choice as the speedy gunslinger Harry Longabaugh (Sundance), and it is a role that would prove to be one of his best. (B)

Directed by George Roy Hill
Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Strother Martin, Jeff Corey, Henry Jones, Ted Cassidy
Genres: Western, Drama

Photo: 20th Century Fox

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