Sunday, October 24, 2010

Movie Sunday: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the best buddy movie ever

Picture from here

To be fair, one of the reasons I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as much as I do is that it came out when I was the right age, so my best friend and I got to run around for about two years calling each other Butch and Sundance. Which was a little confusing, because half the other kids in my school were doing the same thing.

But what really makes this movie awesome is two things: Paul Newman and Robert Redford. In their primes. Late primes perhaps, by current Hollywood standards, but primes nonetheless. The chemistry between these two guys is unbelievable, and you've never seen four bluer eyes on a movie screen.* They may have put Katherine Ross in the movie just so we would know they were straight.

Like many other famous Hollywood duos, this pairing almost didn't happen. Newman was a big star by this point, and Redford was, well, no one's first choice. The original plan was for Steve McQueen to play Butch, and Newman would play Sundance. They were unable to come to terms about top billing, and McQueen dropped out. Jack Lemmon, Warren Beatty, and Marlon Brando were all considered, but the director lobbied for Redford over the studio's objections, and eventually prevailed. Otherwise, none of us would probably know who Robert Redford is today, and there would certainly not be a Sundance Film Festival.

The movie itself is light-hearted, and slick, and a little sentimental, like good buddy stories should be. It wasn't exactly ground-breaking, but was well-placed in its time. The cinematography is amazing for the sixties, and still really good by today's standards. It won a bunch of awards, and made a big bucket of money.

The film has a great cast from top to bottom,  a few really golden moments, a couple of taglines, and somebody gets kicked in the nuts. You've gotta love a movie where a big guy takes it in the jewels. Also, Redford grew what may very well be the best mustache of all time for the role. It's almost certainly why I grew one as early as I was able.

Some critics of the day were disappointed that George Roy Hill, the director, didn't make a more serious film, like The Wild Bunch or Bonnie and Clyde. I think the criticism is justified from one point of view. There are -- as Vincent Canby put it -- signs of another, better movie hidden behind this one. But it was 1969. Everyone was probably really stoned all the time, and they are lucky they managed to get the film in the camera the right way. And making a more serious movie probably would have required reining in the characters a little, like in The Sting.

Most of all, it's hard to argue with success. This film is still one of the best-loved westerns ever. The movie, and the relationship between its protagonists, has influenced hundreds of stories and characters over the years.  And even forty years later, it's still really enjoyable to watch, which is not something we can say for most movies made in the sixties. Or last year, for that matter. It's a great way to spend two hours with a buddy.

* These days anyone can have blue(ish) eyes. If you wanted blue eyes in 1969 you had to be born with them. And while Redford's eyes were certainly blue, Paul Newman's eyes were remarkable. They were a not insignificant part of his appeal.


  1. reminds me that this has always been one of my favortite (and usually forgotten) flicks... i gotta say, though, that "Shawn of the Dead" comes close as a fabulous Buddy Movie... but there were no heart-stopping blue eyes in "Shawn"...

  2. It's one of my favourite films. It's just plain GOOD to watch.

  3. Not for nothing did PAUL wear a can-opener around his neck for 2 decades. The man was a functioning alcoholic. He made it seem quite fun.
    Paul was also wise enough to go to bat for Redford, who never forgot his boost. They remained close buddies for years...kinda like another pair of buddies I was fun to watch it with you.

  4. One of my faves too. Someone say "one two three go" "ONETWOTHREEGO."

    Also? I have vision and the world wears bifocals.

    Brilliant. I have super blue eyes.