If raindrops kept falling on Judge Ryan Keefer's head, he'd have to go home and get a new hat.
"See, you may be the biggest thing that ever hit this area, but you're still two-bit outlaws. I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you're still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It's over, don't you get that? Your time is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where."
1969 was an interesting year for film. You had the much ballyhooed Midnight Cowboy and it's "X" rating (not to mention its young actors Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman); you had the polarizing Western film The Wild Bunch directed by Sam Peckinpah, and you had the choice of the counterculture in Easy Rider, with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. But that's not all, you had a big budget film that everyone loved and starred two "hunks," one an up and comer in Robert Redford (Barefoot in the Park), the other tried and true in Paul Newman (The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke), in a film about Western legends Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. So what's the big fuss about after all these years?
Facts of the Case
Written by William Goldman (The Princess Bride) and directed by George Roy Hill (Slaughterhouse-Five), this film recalls the life of Butch Cassidy (Newman), his "Hole in the Wall Gang," and principally his friend the Sundance Kid (Redford). The pair has been known for years for their bank robberies, but they have recently switched to robbing trains. However, the head of the railroad sees this activity as a personal insult, so he decides to hire the best and brightest in an attempt to find Butch and Sundance and kill them. As part of their plan to escape, Butch, Sundance and Sundance's girl Etta (Katharine Ross, The Graduate) take a boat down to Bolivia, to evade this band of vigilantes and perhaps to go straight. However their proclivity to rob banks comes back home to roost, and soon Butch and Sundance find themselves on Bolivian "Wanted" posters everywhere in the country.
Okay, setting aside the above the line names like Newman and Redford and the then-recent success of Ross, there are still a ton of people in here, some familiar to Westerns (like Strother Martin, who also appeared in The Wild Bunch and Jeff Corey, who appeared in True Grit) but there are others that take a couple of glances to pick up on. Cloris Leachman (who plays Agnes) and Kenneth Mars (who plays the Marshal of the town where Butch and Sundance frequently stay in) both went on to appear in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, while the dedicated but dumb Woodcock, played by George Furth, appeared in Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Even Harvey Logan, the man in the Hole in the Wall Gang who rebels against Butch, is played by Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch in The Addams Family.
At the end of the day though, one stays around to listen to the interaction between Newman and Redford which, while witty, is witty to a fault in the sense that it sounds so modern. In the beginning, it's pretty funny, and some of the lines are memorable for good reason, but what may be missed by some people is the realization that Butch and Sundance seemed to know that what they were doing was futile, when it came to escaping the law (or a group of vengeful cowboys). There's a scene near the end where Ross' character prepares to leave the boys, and the boys don't put up a fight to make her stay. They know what will happen to her if she does, and it's better if she leaves to help live up to a promise she asks of them earlier in the film.
With Goldman, Hill, Redford and Newman, there was a comfort level that the quartet managed to maintain for several years afterwards. Hill directed Newman and Redford again in 1973's The Sting and directed Redford afterwards in The Great Waldo Pepper (one of four Redford films that Goldman wrote) and Newman after that in Slap Shot. It was here that they were at their freshest, and Conrad Hall's perfect cinematography helps to bring the viewer into Butch and Sundance's perspective as they try to avoid getting caught however they can.
There's been several incarnations of this film on DVD, but now Fox has finally done right by it when others have failed, housing two whole discs full of neat stuff. The commentary with Hill, Hall, Robert Crawford and lyricist Hal David comes over from the 2004 Special Edition and, even with all these people, it is a little bit bland. Hill and Hall are the most active participants, and the usual stories about how scenes and some production issues came together are discussed. Goldman contributes a new commentary which is a little bit better, but runs out of steam near the end and duplicates a lot of things that the supplements touch on. He also lends some words of advice to aspiring screenwriters, along with his thoughts on where films are today. I wouldn't call this invaluable, but it's not too bad. The only other extra on the first disc is a 1994 documentary on the making of the film which is narrated by Hill and includes audio contributions by Goldman, Newman and Redford, in which they discuss how each person came to the film and help break down some scenes. There's some technical information included occasionally as well. It was okay but bordered a little bit on radio theater of some sort.
Disc Two starts with the first of three substantial looks at the film and its historical characters. "All of What Follows is True" covers the making of the film and has new interviews with the major players, as they recall how the film got made, and how close guys like Steve McQueen were to playing opposite Newman. As far as new documentaries on 35-year-old movies go, it's not really that bad. Next is "The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of Butch and Sundance" which sets the historical record straight. It compares how the historical characters are portrayed in the film as a fact vs. fiction comparison. Next is a longer 90-minute look at the film that possibly may be a History Channel special in another life. Narrated by Burt Reynolds, this is a meat and potatoes look at the real-life events, and even speculates that Butch and Sundance may have even escaped the Bolivian army. Of all the long looks at the film, this is probably the best, and Hall, Redford and Newman are all participants. There's another half hour of interviews which were brought over from the 2004 version, and some production notes and trailers of old Newman films complete the second disc.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At the end of the day, comparing this film to the other Westerns of that year may be a bit of an "apples and oranges" debate. Butch and Sundance in this film do seem to know what their fate will be, but don't seem to be all that introspective about it. Compare that to The Wild Bunch, where the whole group of them is bad, and they know it, and the bunch's actions reflect each other without a lot of snappy dialogue, and I think that Peckinpah's film has held up through the years a little bit better than this one has, but they both are in good repute.
For those who love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you probably won't get a better edition than this one. It's full of production and historical anecdotes, and that enhances a pleasant film. You can't ask for anything more than that.
They're Butch and Sundance, their reputation precedes this court. Not guilty, court adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director George Roy Hill, Lyricist Hal David, Documentary Director Robert Crawford Jr. and Cinematographer Conrad Hill
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