All of what follows in this movie is false, but Judge Gordon Sullivan and the Sundance Kid just didn't have the right ring to it.
Our reviews of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid: Two-Disc Collector's Edition (published June 5th, 2006) and Paul Newman: The Tribute Collection (published October 12th, 2009) are also available.
Not that it matters, but most of it is true.
The Spaghetti western was taken to its logical, almost apocalyptic conclusion in 1968 with Once Upon a Time in the West. In the tumult that followed, 1969 produced the two films that would mark the edges of the Western genre for decades to come. The Wild Bunch took the fatalism brewing in the genre and produced a dark and nihilistic film that spoke to the despair of the audience. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took that fatalism, kicked up its heels, and laughed long and hard at it. I don't think it's aged quite as well as the other Westerns I've mentioned, but Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid gets a solid (though not spectacular) release with this Blu-ray disc.
Facts of the Case
Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke) is the happy-go-lucky dreamer and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford, The Chase) is the cold, calculating gambler. Together they've robbed many a train. But when their luck goes south, so do they, heading to Bolivia to make some cash while things cool off. Naturally, things aren't that easy, as a posse pursues them while they master the unique challenges presented by crime south of the border.
The highlight of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is easily the interplay between Newman and Redford. In an alternate dimension, egos could have clashed, words could have been thrown, and both characters would have come to the screen lifeless. Instead, both actors bring a joyful ease to their characters. Rarely in film have I seen two people look more believable as lifelong friends. Butch and Sundance share a history and know each other so well that both actors seem to use their eyes and smiles to communicate more than their dialogue. Considering the bulk of the film falls on their shoulders, they pull off their roles with charm to spare.
The quality of the acting is made more remarkable considering the lackluster script, which really does the movie in. The first 30 minutes or so do an effective job setting up the world of Butch and Sundance. However, once the posse rears its ugly head, the movie never recovers. The initial chase, before the boys head to Bolivia, is overly long and lacking in tension or drama. Then, once they get to Bolivia, each scene seems like a joke in search of a punchline. Some of these individual scenes are amusing (especially those involving the Spanish vocabulary of the robbery trade), but they don't add up to much. When the final showdown arrived, I found myself caring very little about their fate.
Perhaps it is decades of hindsight, but the ending itself seems ill-conceived. Perhaps they were aiming for the emotional impact of the final shot of The 400 Blows, but it just comes off as a copout, a way to end the film because the story couldn't ever really resolve itself. In hindsight it also seems like the film doesn't want to take sides, neither endorsing nor condemning the robbers.
The influence of Bonnie and Clyde (and, by extension, the French New Wave) is obvious in the mixing of the traditional Western setting with the more modern dialogue and music of the film. While "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is a fine song, its use now seems out of place. I'm sure at the time it seemed thrillingly modern, but now it comes off as more of a gimmick than a revolutionary choice. The film seems to be driving at the inevitability of the death of the frontier, but using modern language and music undermines this choice, removing the threat that modernism represents.
On the technical front, the disc is a mixed bag. The video transfer seems to be free of serious problems, but the source print simply wasn't in great shape. Expect dirt, some scratching, and slightly excessive grain from this version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The audio fares slightly better. There's a little distortion evident, but otherwise the dialogue and music come through loud and clear.
For extras we get some solid offerings, but not as many as the recent 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD. Ported over from that release are two commentaries, two documentaries, a deleted scene with commentary, and trailers. Missing are another documentary and recent interviews with the cast and crew. The commentaries, although they contain many silent moments, are otherwise filled with information about the film. My personal preference between the two was for William Goldman's solo commentary, as his insights and delivery were a little more interesting. The two documentaries provide ample insight into the production of the film as well as the historical inspiration with the usual talking heads approach. The deleted scene and trailers are an interesting, if inessential, addition to the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a popular and influential film. It brought two Hollywood heartthrobs together in a genre that many thought was dead. My tastes certainly run towards the likes of The Wild Bunch, but Butch is not without its charms, especially if you're viewing it for nostalgic purposes.
If this were the only release of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid it would be a pretty easy recommendation to fans of the film or the western genre. However, because all the extras from the Collector's Edition haven't been ported over, fans of the film are left in a bind. Obviously, the studio would happy if you bought both the DVD and this Blu-ray disc, but the choice is up to you. The video on this Blu-ray is noticeably improved over the DVD, but the enhanced clarity makes the problems with the source all the more apparent, making the DVD preferable for some. If this is your first purchase of Butch, I recommend buying this Blu-ray and renting the second disc of the Collector's Edition. If you already own the Collector's Edition, then I suggest a rental of this Blu-ray to see if the audiovisual improvement warrants a purchase.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford are found not guilty for their roles as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Fox is found guilty of producing an incomplete Blu-ray that forces customers to make difficult decisions (or buy both editions).
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director George Roy Hill, Lyricist Hal David, Documentary Director Robert Crawford Jr., and Cinematographer Conrad Hall
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