THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 43: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

by Brek the David


Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  (1969) – Director: George Roy Hill   Written by: Paul Goldman   Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross   OSCAR COUNT (4) – Best original Screenplay,  Best Music – Original Score and Original Song, Best Cinematography

One of the best Westerns of all time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid takes a look at the Old West outlaw in a positive humanistic light.  These men are definitely criminals but they are not villains.  There actually isn’t a whole lot known about these two outlaws even though they were the most successful bank and train robbers of all time.  They don’t have the same fame or infamy as Jesse James.   Perhaps this is because they fled to Bolivia to continue their thieving ways.  At any rate, this film portrays them as great friends who are very good at what they do.  They are so competent that even the best lawmen in the US can’t stop them.  However, they do face enough heat for them to realize that they’ve robbed all they can in the States, so they go down to South America.

Armed with great performances, superb writing, and constant clever wit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid kill us with kindness and humor.  These men aren’t bloodthirsty killers. They’re veterans of the Civil War, with no place in society.  This is never actually spelled out in the film, but it is quite clear that Butch and Sundance just can’t cope with any other life. So they use what they learned from the war to their advantage, robbing banks and the mighty Union Pacific.  What endears us to these characters is undoubtedly the chemistry and brilliant acting by Paul Newman and then newcomer Robert Redford.  These two are so good, their joint effort is the best tandem of all time.  No two actors have ever been so believable or enjoyable working together.

Pervasive throughout the film is alarming humor.  This is a genuinely funny film.  It’s so full of laughs that it borders on being a comedy.  It’s not however.  The constant humor is there so when it gets serious, it hits you hard in the gut.  Because of the humor, the scene where Butch and Sundance have a showdown with some Bolivian banditos, the tension can be cut with a knife.  Fittingly even this scene has humor, as just before guns blaze, Butch admits to Sundance that he’s never shot a man before.  Even the final sequence of events leading up to the inevitable is rife with humor.  Their last conversation evokes the same ever-present lighthearted frivolity these two men share.  Even in the face of death, they’re ragging on one another.  “Australia” Butch says, “I told you because secretly I knew you wanted to know”.  They’re discussing where they’re going to go next while an entire Bolivian brigade awaits outside to gun them down.  This contrast of humor and gravely serious images and sounds makes for what is one of the best ending scenes ever filmed; the gravity of the situation created by everything that has happened before this moment.

Also spellbinding is the oddity.  The scene with Etta, Butch, the bicycle, and “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” seems as if it should be in another film entirely, yet it fits perfectly. The opening scenes are filmed in sepia which later gives way to color.  Butch is examining a bank.  He’s cleverly and with dismay scoping all the extra security measures being put into place; security measures that are because of him and Sundance.  After a witty exchange with a guard, the action moves to Sundance playing cards.  For the next few tense seconds, the camera focuses on Sundance, his eyes intense as he’s playing Blackjack.  Sundance barely utters a word.  The only lines being spoken are from the man across from him, but we don’t actually see his face for some time.  The man accuses Sundance of cheating in a passive aggressive way just as Butch shows up.  What’s great here is the implied history that Butch and Sundance have been through this before many times.  Butch, as always, attempts humor to diffuse the situation.  Having failed that, Butch resigns the accuser to his fate, death from the bullets of Sundance’s lightning drawn guns.  Butch lays down his ace with the classic “I can’t help you Sundance”.  With that line the nature of the scene changes dramatically.   Finally the face of the accuser is revealed and it’s one of shock and confusion.  The accuser now realizes he’s about to die, as Sundance was a notoriously a deadly gunfighter.  Just with these two scenes alone we achieve great insight into both lead characters.  Butch, the cavalier face of the two who uses his cunning and charm, and Sundance, by contrast, speaks mainly with his action, the double action of his revolver.

Butch Cassidy: Boy, I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.

Sundance Kid: Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?


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2 responses to “THE 100 GREATEST FILMS OF ALL TIME – 43: BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

  1. Great write up. One of my favorites so far, Brek. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s from one of my favorite movies. 😀 So sure, I’m biased, but ask me if I care. 🙂

    I love that opening card scene. Butch tries everything he can to diffuse the situation without down right begging the guy to shut the hell up and apologize. After Butch realizes it’s not going to work he plays the last card he has in his deck… a name drop. And it works.

    It’s amazing how idiots wont listen to reason but they’ll gladly listen to fear.

    Great opening scene. Great movie. Great performances. Great write up.

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