Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true
Was the original disclaimer written by legendary screenwriter William Goldman at the beginning of the 1969 western classic Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid although the director George Roy Hill deleted the first five words when he noticed in previews that the caption was generating laughs.
When the film hit the screens 54 years ago, cinema was still relatively squeaky clean. Not only did heroes, especially in Westerns, play fair, they were on the right side of law and order, not professional outlaws like Butch and Sundance. This was a movie that changed all the rules overnight, and did so with such panache that it became a box-office sensation and embedded itself in the public’s affections forever.
Despite initial hiccups, it was clear from very early on that the film was going to be special. It started as the pet project of screenwriter and novelist William Goldman, who by chance come across the story of Robert Parker aka Butch Cassidy and Harry ‘Sundance Kid’ Longabaugh, who had both become famous in the days of the Wild West but were not well-known to the contemporary public. Goldman was intrigued by the pair because their non-killing approach to their robberies had made them popular with the people and because the resurrection of their activities in South America after they’d been hounded out of their native country.
It wasn’t too surprising that Paul Newman, a star since the mid-50s and currently riding high for his acclaimed performances in Hombre and Cool Hand Luke, was invited to be in the film, not least because he’d recently appeared in the Goldman-scripted Harper. However, Newman was under the impression that he was being asked to play Sundance and had to be corrected by director George Roy Hill. “I went back and read the script that night and thought, hell, the parts are really about equal and they’re both great parts.” Newman recalled. “So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll be Butch.’“
We all now know the man destined to play his partner in crime but 20th Century Fox didn’t originally want Robert Redford in the picture because he was a not a major star. However, Newman insisted, and a new superstar emerged.
The film mocked western conventions as much as it celebrated them, nowhere more so than the scene where the duo evaded the posse on their trail. In their stomach-churning jump off a cliff into a river below, the pair, far from being heroic, were scared and undignified.
Something else that made us feel the picture had an edgy and contemporary feel was the razor sharp dialogue. Although the two protagonists were intensely loyal to one another, that didn’t rule out a constant call-and-response of sniping and bitching. “Is that what you call cover?”, “Is that what you call running?”. Up until the film was released, audiences had only been used to such repartee from stand-up comedians.
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid presented us with a catalogue of superb and instantly memorable scenes. All these passages have subsequently become iconic. Most iconic of all is the poignant finale. Cornered by the authorities, the pair determined to start a new life in Australia once they’ve escaped, unaware of the fact that an entire army regiment lay in wait for them. As Butch and Sundance charge their opponents, the scene was freeze-framed, then darkened to sepia as the soldiers’ volleys resounded . . .
For all its edginess, the movie contained no gore, nudity or profanity (unless we count the never-completed expletive during the descent into the river).
The film actually got off to a shaky commercial start. Several key reviewers derided it. However, any concern on the part of its participants soon lifted when it became clear that the film was becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. It proceeded to achieve the status of the year’s top-grossing movie in the USA, doing more than twice the business of nearest competitors Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider. The critics must have been even more irate when his screenplay garnered Goldman an Oscar for Original Screenplay. The film also won Academy Awards for Cinematography, Music and Song (the unforgettable Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head). Unfortunately it missed out on Best Picture which IMO it should have won.
Redford later recalled that he had no idea of what a game-changer Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid would be. “None of us felt we were making the landmark western of the late Sixties,” he observed. “But the ground did move. On Butch Cassidy, I remember laughing a lot and thinking, ‘This is just too much fun, which means it’s either shit or gold.'”
and the tease for next weeks post (dead easy) . . . They call me Mr. Tibbs !
21 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #60”
Butch and Sundance survived!
Amazing how that happens so often. The executives are myopic, always looking backwards, never forward. Yet when a producer gives a new talent a go often it commences a stellar career, like Harrison Ford.
Mr Redford always was watchable, like in Three Days of the Condor with Max von Sydow. And Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke was riveting.
I can’t remember whether I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the flicks, or on TV, but I loved it when I saw it. It just works for some reason – and I don’t usually like westerns.
I did see The Sting at the flicks. Gorgeous. Redford and Newman at the absolute top of their game.
Cute, gimmick movie, an entertainment worth the popcorn and the price of admission but not much more. Also, it hasn’t aged well. That bicycle romping, for example, with musical accompaniment is wince-making, likewise the Swinging Sixties sexual mores with both bandits sharing the affections of Ms Ross.
The Wild Bunch, also allegedly inspired by the Hole in the Wall gang, is a far better and more satisfying study of banditos outliving their time. In terms of editing (the initial shootout and the repeated cuts as one of the bounty hunters tumbles off the roof), stunts (Butch and Sundance’s cliff leap vs. the bridge being blown up with US Cavalry inconveniently still on it), Peckinpah leaves George Roy Hill for dead.
Interesting, too, the directors’ rival perspectives. Butch and Sundance affirms the anti-establishment ethos of the day. ‘Look, guys, here we are breaking the law but it’s OK because we don’t like killing folks and we’re basically a fun duo — hippies with six-shooters and a sense of humour.’
Contrast that with the Wild Bunch scene where they discover they’ve stolen bags of steel washers and Edmond O’Brien launches into his ‘they’ speech. Dutch and Pike are sworn enemies of the state — the all-powerful ‘they’ — and give it no quarter. As Holden tells the greasy Mexican general who wants the latest American weaponry, “there are few matters on which we and our government agree.” (paraphrased from memory).
The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest movies ever made, which Butch and Sundance serves to demonstrate that by providing pale comparison.
And always remember, ‘It’s not what you promise, it’s who you promise it to.’
The washer scene:
Agree with areff -it hasn’t aged well; too much of its particular time.
Katharine Ross is married to Sam Elliott, who had a bit part in the film as ‘Card Player #2.’
I loved it when they had to jump off of the cliff into the river. Well, what would you have done?
One of ‘the corniest’ movies ever made and still a memorable lot of fun.
Corny is fine! Wolfman did Lee Marvin recently – his drunken gunfighter role in Cat Ballou was awesomely corny, and very good!
Lee Marvin – Gunfighter
I saw this (as a teenager) with the girl I loved at that time, and we enjoyed it immensely. Now it remains enjoyable but will stand forever as a monument to she who (because a year younger) was not fated to be she who I have loved and desired for the subsequent decades.
And another memorable lot of fun.
BoN, I think ‘corny’ is a legitimate movie rating.
My grandmother had a picture of Paul Newman in the corner of a picture frame of a photo of my grandfather (who was long-gone by the time of my arrival). I think there was a resemblance that escaped my young eyes.
The music in the interlude between the North & South American settings is quite something.
Most memorable scene: The “Rules of knife fighting”
Most scrutinised scene: Where they’re riding double on the one horse, before they jumped into the river.
That scene was played & replayed when it was shown in my town, as everybody tried to see just what saddle they were using.
And, Katharine Ross is in it.
Goldman also scripted The Princess Bride… good popcorny fun.
Don’t read the book to your kids though, it’s embarrassingly twee.
William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade is well worth a read. Check out your online second hand seller and buy it. It’s a revelation.
In the movie business, nobody knows anything.
Although, I would have thought that remakes and sequels of popular comic and superhero based movies with ‘woke’ themes and characters replacing the originals is risky, to say the least. Not to mention, even though they keep failing, Hollywood keeps making them.
As I have said before, I think that it is now just a giant money-laundering operation.
Unable to comment yesterday as I spent most of the day doing soccer refereeing – and I was knackered at the end of the day !
Agree johanna – the losses from Hollywood films in the last few years would be eye-watering. Something is decidedly fishy.
I get you point areff – The Wild Bunch is an outstanding film, I just see the 2 as two totally different films to be enjoyed on their own merits.
Had a mate come and pace out our place as a location for a short fillum from a semi-famous bloke. Getting made on grants, mates and favours… aiming at 15 minutes, $5m budget. Writer-director-actor’s plan is to get leverage off art film circuit, then apply for grants and favours for a feature.
I kinda told him to go jump… I mean, he wanted to cast my dog, and literally prayseed the lawn so it looked more southern colonial decay. The film industry takes liberties to feed egos like you wouldn’t believe, and I wasn’t going to be part of the conga line.
Tim Winton’s “Drift” was made into a film, with Hollywood people.
Cost $12m, 15 years ago.
…total grants and kickbacks? dunno
Grossed $280 000 at the box office.
…DVD sales figures? dunno
I love Westerns, young, old, modern or ancient. Initially it was because there were guaranteed to be horses, which for a horse obsessed girl is all that mattered. As I grew older I learnt to appreciate the genre in its own right.
Butch and Sundance is fun but, as areff mentioned above, it hasn’t aged well. Favourite western of all time, TOMBSTONE. nuff said.
A couple of years ago, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, free to air tv actually had an excellent afternoon’s viewing. Started with “Comes a Horseman”, then “The Long Riders”. I had never actually seen The Long Riders until then, but I do remember reading about it when it was being made. It was unique in that it had four sets of actors who were brothers in real life. Carradine, Keach, Quaid and Guest. It is a damn good western. The film was also quite faithful to real events.
If you haven’t seen it, try to find it, it is worth watching.
Looking forward to the next post Wolfman. 🙂
Thank you Wolfman, a great movie. Love the Raindrop bicycle scene. Soundtrack of my childhood.
Also as a teenager during hot summers in NE Victoria did many a cliff / bridge jump Into the Murray/ Lake Eildon. I would many a time think I was Butch or Sundance as I leapt to my fate and survive. Great days.
Word on the street is they’re doing a remake, Butch Lesbian and the Sexchange Kid. They’re overrun with applicants.
I’ve been surprised by the number of comments saying the film hasn’t aged well. I always take the liberty of re-watching a film(s) I’m posting about a week or two before and I have to admit I still thoroughly enjoy this film.
Not to worry . . . it would be a dull world if we all agreed upon everything.
I like Tombstone a lot . . . one of the best westerns of the last 30 years – arguably the best.
The Long Riders and Comes A Horseman are also pretty good films as well.
Triggered/prompted by this post, watched Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid overnight.
Loved it every bit as much as any other time I’ve watched it.
Saw none of the drawbacks mentioned above.
Nobody seriously believes the movie is an exact replication of life in the Hole-in-the-Wall gang.
It is first class entertainment. Well played by Newman & Redford.
Alas Katharine Ross is like a spare wheel, her role somehow just doesn’t feel right.
Unfortunately watched it with someone who is too dumb to get any of the jokes or nuance.
Example: They totally missed the spark of the “I can’t even spot how you’re cheating” barb the gambler puts to Sundance Kid in the opening sepia sequence. (Yeah, there are people who are that dumb – if a joke or plot move is based on words, it goes way over their head)
So that person found the movie to be totally pointless, flat & boring.
Easy to see why it had such appeal at home when it came out (okay, several years after the cinema release) & why at least 100 people turned up in the town hall to watch it.
Just about everything in it was relatable:
Riding horses – check.
Riding horses at desperate speed across rough country – check
Using firearms – check
Tracking – check
Tense social situations easily turning into interpersonal violence – check
Plus…. train robbery, hideouts, manhunts, all the stuff grown men secretly still love from when they were little boys.
Really noticed this viewing just how sad & pointless Butch & Sundance’s lives were. They got nothing tangible out of their criminal career – & were only ever headed for an early violent death.
They’d have been more comfortable & had better financial prospects in the army (as they talk of doing) or taking a job of some sort.
Had they been born 25 years earlier, they could have found all the action they’d have ever wanted in the US Civil War – & not had to make trouble ever again.
Etta Place’s wikipedia page is possibly the easiest & most jaw-dropping read about Butch & Sundance’s exploits in South America. They got up to a helluva lot more than the movie implies.
They took up a Fifteen thousand acre ranch in Argentina – they should have STFU about who they were & stayed on it. They’d have been still alive, punching cows, until after World War II.