The high-spirited drama presents a unique mixture of the present and the past. The hero-bandit's historic misadventures are conveyed in joyous contemporary spirit. This spirit is reflected in the comedy, characterizations, bantering dialogue, music, and cinematic effects that are an integral part of Director George Roy Hill's delightful western.
The films two main heroes present us with a curious mixture of classic and contemporary characters. Sundance (Robert Redford) is a conventional western character - a cardsharp, a wanderer, and although we are occasionally allowed to see him as human, he is never the less depicted as the silent type. Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) is, in contrast, a modern character, spunky, talkative and romantic. Both men are engaging criminals; and Butch quixotic notions are balanced by Sundance's earthy realism. The characters and the dynamic chemistry evinced by their portrayers provides us with a classic example of what a buddy film looks like when it really works.
Set around 1905-1909 the movie opens with a film within a film On a small black and white screen, like an old silent movie, we see a (simulated) newsreel, circa 1905, of the outlaw's criminal team robbing the Union Pacific Flyer. Butch and Sundance's gang is originally known as the Wild Bunch and later as The Hole In The Wall Gang (following a series of internal disputes that caused the group to break up). Thus from the films outset Butch and Sundance are depicted as fabled legends living in their own time.
Of additional note is the performance of Katherine Ross (Etta Place) as Sundance's girlfriend. Her other films include "The Graduate" for which she received an Oscar nomination. She won the award for most promising newcomer of the year for this film. Ross strikes exactly the right note as Sundance's girlfriend simultaneously evincing strength and vulnerability and serving as a feminine counterpoint to Newman and Redford.
It should be noted that Director George Roy Hill's film is not a traditional western. Released at a time when the Western was considered a dead (or at least financially unsuccessful) art form he turns the genre upside down; what results is an easygoing film full of reversals, twists, and revisions of classic western cliches. (A classic occurs when the inept train robbers dynamite the boxcar along with the safe.)
This is not like the mythic westerns of the past, such as John Ford's Stagecoach or George Steven's Shane. Butch and Sundance does not idealize. Nor is it like the harsh violent westerns of the present such as Clint Eastwood's, Pale Rider, it is not overly cynical either. Rather, with youthful zest and a rapier wit Hill creates social misfits who do not mean any harm. Rather, because of their innate humanity and goodwill, we not only forgive their criminal actions, but end up rooting for them as well.
The spontaneity and freshness of the film is immensely enhanced by its musical score which won the Academy Awards for best song and original soundtrack that year. The enormously successful Burt Bacharach Hal David pop tune Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head, strikes the right note in one of the films more light hearted sequences.
Equally note worthy is Conrad Hall's lush cinematography which perfectly captures the luxurious landscapes of South America and dusty overtones of the American West. Particularly note worthy are Hall's disolves to and from the sepia toned early sequences to the vivid Technicolor sequences which dominate the film. Hall's use of green-gold period stills of New York and Coney Island are also particularly striking. The films final sequence features one of the most effective uses of a freeze frame ever captured on film.
It has been said that any cinematographer worth his/her salts should be able to win an Oscar with an epic western. And certainly the venue lends itself to visual images but Hall deservedly won an Academy Award for his work on the picture. It transcends the genre and takes on a life of its own.
No discussion of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Would be complete without mentioning bestselling novelst and Oscar winning Screenwriter William Goldman's delightful Academy Award Winning screenplay. Goldman who may be better known to contemporary film audiences as the screenwriter behind the films "All The President's Men , "The Princess Bride (adapted from his own short story) and "Misery", is probably one of the best screenwriters in Hollywood. Certainly much of the films success is due to its believable dialogue.
In the final analysis however it is the endearing chemistry of Newman and Redford that makes the film so memorable. In their first appearance together the two ignite the screen, this is what acting in general and Buddy Films in particular are all about - the relationships that drive our actions and determine who and what we are.
|If you enjoyed this film you might want to check out Hill's later teaming of Newman and Redford in "The Sting" which earned him an Academy Award for best director in 1973.|