Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Who Were Those Guys?

I first saw George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the mid eighties when I was in my early teens. It was via a late night full screen TV Broadcast with commercials that I had taped and, while I enjoyed the film, it didn’t hit me in the same way that several of the other major films (ranging from Bonnie and Clyde to Midnight Cowboy) from the late sixties had.
I revisited the film a few years later, this time commercial free via a VHS copy, in my late teens and liked it more although it still didn’t rank among my favorites. Sometime though in my mid to late twenties I fell in love with the picture and I find that it is one of those rare movies that truly does get better and better with each viewing.
I watched the film again recently; probably my tenth or eleventh time, and I had never been more impressed or moved by it. Hill’s expertly edited, acted and scored film hits an emotional chord with me most films can’t even begin to come close to and I have no doubt that it will hit me even more the next time I watch it.
As I was watching it the other night, I was trying to figure out what exactly it is that I respond to so strongly in the film. I still don’t think it is as ‘great’ a film as Bonnie and Clyde, or The Graduate or Midnight Cowboy or Easy Rider, but the film has an undeniable emotional force to it, most of which I think can be credited to the chemistry between Paul Newman’s Butch and Robert Redford’s Sundance. I also think the main thing that draws me to it personally is how much of its time it is. This isn’t a film that exists in any other year than 1969…from the film stock, to the dialogue to those extraordinary Burt Bacharach musical montages, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid IS American Cinema in 1969 and as we get further and further away from that period it becomes more and more powerful and resonate.

If you can get past the poignancy of William Goldman’s script and the superstar charisma of Newman and Redford (now THESE guys are stars), and the iconic Bacharach score, I find perhaps the most important part of the film to be the editing of John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer. The film still surprises me and I am still surprised when it does so and most of that can be contributed to just how inventively well cut this film is. Take for instance the famous moment when they blow the doors off the train for the first time…all these years later I am still waiting for that customary shot of them walking away from the rigged doors but its not there and I still feel a kick every time those doors blow.
There are so many moments from the film I wouldn’t give anything for…from the legendary opening shots of both Newman and Redford to the lovely bicycle scene with Newman and Katherine Ross set to Bacharach and David’s “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” (sung with an easy sounding perfection by B.J. Thomas, one of the most underrated pop singers of the sixties) to the wrenching moment when they are forced to kill the Bolivian Gang to the haunting final freeze photograph that is still as audacious and as brave as any ending to any American film before or since.
There is a certain sweet justice for the movie going public in that they embraced the film when the critics didn’t as it has lasted longer than most critical darlings can ever even hope to. It, of course, still has its detractors but it doesn’t matter as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid thrives. Revisiting it again recently was a real special experience…I’m already anticipating the next time, as history tells me it will mean even more to me than it does right now.


J.D. said...

I love this film as well. Fox released it a spiffied up SE a few years ago that was pretty good. I haven't watch it since then but I think that it works because it is just a damn entertaining film. The chemistry between Redford and Newman is genuine and great to watch - esp. when Newman's leadership of the Hole in the Wall gang is challenged early on. Great comic timing in that scene by both men. You look at that film and really wonder if it set the template for the buddy action flick.

In recent years, I liked how THE WAY OF THE GUN paid homage to this film.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I love this film. I do think that the chemistry between Redford and Newman is what makes this film for me. They are so great together. That made this film much better than it might have been. It's a film that I enjoy more the more I see it.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks to you both...loved reading your thoughts on this classic film.

Lastyear said...

Love the music. Hate the soundtrack. The Raindrops Falling on My Head sequence just stops the movie dead in its tracks for me. Whats a lightweight piece of 70's pop doing in the middle of a western. And that choral singing during one later sequence? Reminds me of the Swingle singers(for those too young to remember they used to grace every other variety show on TV for a period of several years in the last 60's).