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Two amiable, not-too-bright outlaws are finding it harder and harder to practice their trade - robbing banks and trains. The West is a changing place, and the world Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid knew is becoming history. When a railroad magnate hires a team of top law enforcers to stop them, the duo tries to outrun them, but it soon becomes obvious the posse will never let up. So along with the Kid's lover, adventurous schoolteacher Etta Place, they head for South America to start over. Yet even in this remote place, the law is never far behind.
Director: George Roy Hill
Producers: John Foreman, Paul Monash
Screenplay: William Goldman
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editing: John C. Howard, Richard C. Meyer
Art Direction: Philip Jefferies, Jack Martin Smith
Original Music: Burt Bacharach
Cast: Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (The Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Strother Martin (Percy Garris), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe), George Furth (Woodcock).
C-110m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
Why BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID is Essential
When Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released in 1969, the Western as a dominant American film genre was about to go into an eclipse and would not re-emerge for many years, although no one knew it at the time. Only John Wayne, whose True Grit (1969) made him the sentimental favorite for the Best Actor Oscar® that year, would regularly continue to make cowboy films. But even his remaining pictures - touched with a growing awareness of the cancer that would take his life in 1979 - had a strong feeling of elegy to them. Times had changed, perceptions of history had been altered, and the standard Western mythologies and forms would no longer fly. In an age of counter-cultural rebellion and anti-government protest, such films as Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), had transformed the criminal into the outlaw hero, the freewheeling, sympathetic rebel struggling to escape the tyranny of uptight society and oppressive authority. Into this atmosphere emerged two Westerns with decidedly different approaches from what had come before.
The first was Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969), a bleak bloodbath set in the waning days of the Old West that, along with the nightly news broadcasts of the Viet Nam War, forever changed our consciousness of screen violence. The other, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, was similarly set at a time when civilization was closing in on the heroes and sealing their inevitable fates. It was also a genial goof on Western conventions that served, in a way, to reaffirm our identification with the genre through characters that seemed to be more of our time than out of the past. Where Peckinpah and Penn showed their protagonists dying horrible bloody deaths in vivid slow motion, shocking yet oddly romantic, director George Roy Hill froze the final frame just before his bandit duo's demise, halting in time their affectionate, fun-loving friendship, as well as their legend. Nostalgia and satire, historical detail and modern sensibilities, a lament for lost times and a contemporary comic romp - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it both ways, and audiences loved it.
Released to generally mediocre reviews, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid became a word-of-mouth phenomenon and boosted the careers of everyone involved. Paul Newman, already a superstar, found a whole new generation of fans and his first success at playing a comic role (something he would revisit with Hill in The Sting, 1973, and Slap Shot, 1977). Robert Redford, up to this point just another handsome leading man, won major stardom overnight and respect for his talent. William Goldman established himself as a successful screenwriter with his first original screenplay (all his previous scripts were based on novels), and George Roy Hill furthered his reputation and gained greater directorial control over his work. Finally, for better or worse, the Newman-Redford pairing made male bonding the cinematic romance of the period and launched the popular craze for what became known as "buddy movies." (At the same time, its popularity probably contributed to a noticeable decrease in interesting roles and screenplays for working actresses).
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is also an interesting study for the way it mixes cinematic forms and references. It has been pointed out that the inclusion of stills, old black-and-white footage that appears to have come from a silent movie, and sepia-tinged shots, along with such anachronistic touches as Burt Bacharach's music and Goldman's wisecracking dialogue, heightens an awareness of the movie as a movie, one that is an obvious fiction about historical subjects who became semi-fictional legends in their own time, thus a comment on the ability of film, especially the Western, to treat the past as myth.
by Rob Nixon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The grandfather of the film Western was a primitive but landmark ten-minute movie made in New Jersey, The Great Train Robbery (1903). Its plot is said to have been inspired by the August 1900 hold-up of a Union Pacific train by Butch Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Gang. The bandits forced the conductor to uncouple the passenger cars from the rest of the train and then blew up the safe in the mail car to escape with about $5,000 in cash.
William Goldman said many young people saw the superposse as a metaphor in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for the government/authority during the years of anti-war protests. He said his students said the similarity lay in the relentlessness by which both "would hunt you down."
The huge popularity of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is evident in the publishing of the screenplay in a mass-market paperback, not a common practice at the time.
Such was the popularity of Newman and Redford as a film team that they were paired again for another comic adventure as a couple of con men in the period caper film The Sting (1973), a multiple award winner (including Best Picture Oscar) and a huge box office success. It was also directed by George Roy Hill.
When he founded his now famous and internationally respected independent film institute and festival in Park City, Utah, Robert Redford named it Sundance after his character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Paul Newman's charity for children with serious medical conditions is named Hole in the Wall Camp after Butch's gang
Callie Khouri acknowledged that her script for Thelma & Louise (1991) was "winking to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and that her characters were meant as female versions of the outlaws.
The characters of Butch and Sundance have been referenced innumerable times: in songs by such musicians as Bon Jovi and Robbie Williams; in such TV shows as The West Wing, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Stargate SG-1; the comic book "Hitman"; and in the movie The Way of the Gun (2000), in which the protagonists are called Parker and Longbaugh (the real names of Cassidy and the Kid).
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is specifically referenced in the video game "Max Payne"; the films A Little Romance (1979, also directed by George Roy Hill, in which one character raptly watches a French-dubbed version of the Hill film), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Mallrats (1995, with a menacing security guard character named La Fours, a variation on the name of the officer leading the superposse pursuing Butch and Sundance), Anger Management (2003), and Spider-Man 2 (2004); on the TV show The Simpsons," in an episode showing Homer and Marge riding a bike while "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" plays; and in Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing, in which the female lead references the characters jumping off the cliff.
For obvious reasons, a sequel was out of the question, but a prequel was made by director Richard Lester, Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (1979), with Tom Berenger as Butch and William Katt as Sundance. Jeff Corey reprised his role as Sheriff Ray Bledsoe.
Another version of the story was filmed for TV, The Legend of Butch and Sundance (2004).
Etta Place was the protagonist of two fictional accounts of what may have happened to her after the end of this story. She was played by Elizabeth Montgomery in Mrs. Sundance (1974) and by the originator of the role, Katharine Ross, in Wanted: The Sundance Woman (1976), in which she teams up with Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Both were made for TV.
Hal Holbrook narrated a documentary about the real Butch and Sundance, Butch Cassidy and the Outlaw Trail (2003).
Either or both of the characters have appeared numerous times in movies and television shows. Charles Bronson played Butch in a 1958 episode of the series Tales of Wells Fargo. Neville Brand played him twice, in The Three Outlaws (1956) and Badman's Country (1958). In the first movie, Sundance was played by Alan Hale, Jr. and in the second by Russell Johnson, both of whom later starred in Gilligan's Island, as the Skipper and the Professor, respectively. Robert Ryan played the Sundance Kid in Return of the Bad Men (1948), which featured a number of legendary outlaw characters, including the Daltons, the Youngers, and Billy the Kid, but not Butch Cassidy. Butch did appear as a minor character in Cat Ballou (1965), a comic Western that may be seen as a stylistic forerunner to this movie.
Although singer B.J. Thomas's agents thought the use of the song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" in the movie would ruin his career, it actually became his biggest hit.
Elements of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid have been seen as homages or references to two Francois Truffaut films. The relationship of Butch, Sundance, and Etta has been compared to the romantic triangle in Jules et Jim (1962), which also featured a similar bicycle scene, and the final freeze frame has been linked to the landmark shot at the end of Les quatre cents coups/The 400 Blows (1959).
It has been noted that the burro that plays a part in the duo's betrayal at the end bears an identical brand to the one that also has a hand in the betrayal of Humphrey Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
by Rob Nixon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
In 1991, a scientific team excavated the graves in San Vicente, Bolivia, of the two American criminals killed in a shootout there believed to have been Butch and Sundance. However, DNA tests did not match that of any existing relatives of the outlaws. Some people claim that means the two men killed in the famous shootout were not the legendary duo; others say the graves were simply not those of Butch and Sundance but of two others buried in the town at another time.
Butch's youngest sister, Lula Parker Betenson, visited the set of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and became acquainted with cast and crew. She was also pursued by reporters upon the film's release. She claimed Butch had returned to the States after faking his own death in Bolivia and lived until the late 1930s. Many Western scholars have dismissed this as the fabrication of an old woman eager to capitalize on the movie's success.
Butch's sister's claims have fueled a number of stories about his supposed survival and life after Bolivia. Some have suggested he eventually sailed to Europe, got a facelift, moved back to America under the name William Phillips, married, then became an entrepreneur in Washington state, dying of cancer in 1937. Some of the evidence is convincing, especially a detailed manuscript about Cassidy which actually appears to have been authored by him. One story was apparently told to geologist David Love in the 1930s by Love's family doctor, Francis Smith. Smith said he had seen Butch, whose face was altered by a surgeon in France, and that he proved who he was by showing Smith an old bullet wound the doctor recognized as one he had treated the outlaw for years earlier. No claims were ever made for the Kid's later existence, however.
George Roy Hill began his directing career in 1950s television drama. His first feature was Period of Adjustment (1962). His last film was the Chevy Chase comedy Funny Farm (1988). He won an Academy Award for the Newman-Redford The Sting (1973), and the Jury Prize at Cannes for his adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1972). Hill died in 2002 of complications from Parkinson's disease.
In addition to his Oscar® for this picture, William Goldman also won for All the President's Men (1976) and has been widely recognized for his work on such films as Marathon Man (1976), The Princess Bride (1987), and Misery (1990). He is also known for writing two books about the film business, Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?.
Cinematographer Conrad Hall (1926-2003) began as a camera operator on East of Eden (1955) and quickly became one of the most sought-after directors of photography in the business. In addition to his Academy Award for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he was nominated nine other times, winning for American Beauty (1999) and his last feature, Road to Perdition (2002), which also starred Paul Newman. He also photographed Newman in Harper (1966) and Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Sam Elliott made his feature film debut as one of the card players in Sundance's introductory scene. He and Katharine Ross (Etta Place) had no scenes together and did not meet until they both appeared in The Legacy (1978). They have been married since 1984.
Academy and Emmy award-winning actress Cloris Leachman has a small role as a prostitute. In her hit television sitcom of several years later, Phyllis, her father-in-law was played by Henry Jones, who appears as the bicycle salesman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Paul Newman's uncredited hairdresser on the film was Jay Sebring, the top hair designer of the day, who was one of several Hollywood notables, including actress Sharon Tate, murdered by Charles Manson's gang in August 1969, barely a month before the film's release.
Jeff Corey, who played Sheriff Bledsoe, was a promising young actor who made close to 70 films between his debut in 1939 and 1951, when he was blacklisted because of his past association with the Communist Party. During the decade he was banned from films, he began a new career as a highly respected acting teacher and drama coach, with such students over the years as James Dean, Barbra Streisand, Anthony Perkins, Robin Williams, Kirk Douglas, and Jack Nicholson. He was able to return to movies and television in 1960, making another 150 or more appearances in both media until his death in 2002.
Strother Martin, who plays Percy Garris, also appeared in 1969's two other big Westerns, The Wild Bunch and True Grit. He was also Paul Newman's memorable antagonist in Cool Hand Luke (1967).
Ted Cassidy, as outlaw Harvey Logan, who finds himself on the painful end of a kick from Butch, was most famous as the gigantic manservant Lurch on the TV comedy series The Addams Family.
Paul Newman and Steve McQueen eventually co-starred in the movie The Towering Inferno (1974). Billing disputes on that production were resolved with a method suggested for them on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: putting the second name on a higher level graphically than the first billed (aka "diagonal billing"). They received the same pay, and at McQueen's insistence, each had the exact same number of lines.
In the first previews, the audiences went wild with loud, extended laughter, which upset director George Roy Hill, who thought perhaps he had made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid too funny. "They laughed at my tragedy," he said, and reworked it to take out some of the bigger laughs.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid initially opened to lukewarm reviews, which depressed Hill and writer William Goldman, but their moods were lifted when a friend of Goldman's told him about waiting in line in the rain to buy tickets on a chilly October day (a few weeks after it premiered). As the earlier audience filed out, one man who had just seen it shouted out, "Hey, it's really worth it!" "When I heard that story, I thought for the first time that we really might have something after all," Goldman said. Indeed, the film got great word of mouth and audiences grew solidly and enthusiastically.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid grossed more than $102 million (including re-releases). Some analyses claim that, adjusting for inflation, it ranks among the 100 top-grossing movies of all time and in the top 10 for its decade. It is also one of the most successful Westerns of all time.
As a result of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's success, Robert Redford became a superstar overnight, and George Roy Hill was able to get greater artistic control over his projects. Newman was already a big star before he made it, but this increased his reputation even further.
Several critics took William Goldman to task for the contemporary, overly cool and clever quality of the dialogue. Although he defended it by noting the picture was set in the early 20th century therefore not as far removed historically as they claimed, he also later noted, "There's a lot about the screenplay I don't like, the smart-assness being just one of them. I also find there are too many reversals and that the entire enterprise suffers...from a case of the cutes."
"You know, I don't think people realize what that picture was all about. It's a love affair between two men. The girl is incidental." Paul Newman
"I knew that was going to be the biggest film I'd ever been in. ... I said to Robert Redford, 'You're in your first 20 million dollar picture.'" Paul Newman
"I don't think it had much effect on other films. At least I'm not aware of it, but then I'm not a film historian either." Paul Newman
by Rob Nixon
Memorable Quotes from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
BUTCH (Paul Newman): What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful.
GUARD (Uncredited): People kept robbing it.
BUTCH: Small price to pay for beauty.
CARD PLAYER (Paul Bryar): Well, looks like you just about cleaned everybody out, fella. You haven't lost a hand since you got to deal. What's the secret of your success?
SUNDANCE KID (Robert Redford): Prayer.
SUNDANCE: Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?
BUTCH: I have vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.
BUTCH: Who are those guys?
BLEDSOE (Jeff Corey): It's over, don't you get that? Your time is over and you're gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.
ETTA (Katharine Ross): I'm 26, and I'm single, and a school teacher, and that's the bottom of the pit. And the only excitement I've known is here with me now. I'll go with you, and I won't whine, and I'll sew your socks, and I'll stitch you when you're wounded, and I'll do anything you ask of me except one thing. I won't watch you die. I'll miss that scene if you don't mind.
BUTCH: I got a great idea where we should go next.
SUNDANCE: Well, I don't want to hear it.
BUTCH: You'll change your mind once I tell you.
SUNDANCE: Shut up.
BUTCH: Okay, okay.
SUNDANCE: It was your great ideas got us here.
BUTCH: Forget about it.
SUNDANCE: I don't want to hear another of your great ideas, all right?
BUTCH: All right.
BUTCH: Australia. I figured secretly you wanted to know so I told you.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
As with any legend of the Old West, many conflicting stories about the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid abound. What we present here is a consensus of facts drawn from various sources that more or less agree on general biographical details.
Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker to Mormon parents in 1866 in Utah and spent most of his young life there. He began working as a laborer at an early age but eventually met up with rustler Mike Cassidy. Cattle and horse theft being a more lucrative and exciting life, Parker joined Cassidy's gang and took his last name. Some claim his name "Butch" came from one of his early jobs as a butcher; others have said it was a joke nickname from a friend who called his rifle "Butch" and teased Cassidy about being such a bad shot. In Wyoming he was caught and sentenced to eighteen months for stealing horses; upon his release, he hooked up with other outlaws, including one known as the Sundance Kid. They held up trains and banks with much success and Butch and Sundance became popular legends in their own lifetimes. They were perhaps the only Western outlaws to achieve this distinction, besides Jesse James. Known for his flair and daring but not for violence, Butch prided himself on never shooting or killing anyone until forced to do so in self-defense later in his career. He was also known to be a very affable person, liked by all. It has been said that he could walk up to a stranger's house and ask to be hidden from the law, and people were so taken with him and his legend that they gladly agreed.
The Sundance Kid was born Harry Alonzo Longabaugh in Pennsylvania (some say New Jersey) in 1867. He joined Butch Cassidy's gang around 1899, possibly taking his name from Sundance, Wyoming, where he served time in jail. He had a reputation as a fearsome gunman, although that is sometimes disputed.
Butch and Sundance's gang has been known by a couple of names, although some Western history experts say there was no firmly constituted or named gang, just a loose collection of outlaws who joined up in varying groups and were known collectively as the Hole in the Wall Gang, after their supposed hide-out in the mountains. It has even been said that neither Butch nor Sundance were the true leaders on many of the jobs ascribed to them. The Wild Bunch was a name believed to have been given them by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, more or less as a publicity measure to make them seem more threatening than they actually were.
On the run from the law, Butch and Sundance, along with the Kid's reputed lover, a woman named Etta Place, fled the country around 1901, traveling first to New York, then to Argentina and Bolivia where, according to many accounts, they became respectable ranchers for a time. They later became miners, before returning to robbing banks, which they were allegedly forced to do upon the eventual arrival of the Pinkerton detective forces who pursued them to South America.
They were said to have been killed by Bolivian authorities around 1908. Certain stories have them ambushed inside a building, and when their bodies were discovered, Sundance had been shot dead, some claim by Butch, who put his badly wounded partner out of his misery before turning his gun on himself. However, many people, including Cassidy's youngest sister Lula Parker Betenson (who was alive at the time that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was released), say the deaths were faked and that Butch, at least, returned to the U.S., married and became a businessman, dying in Spokane, Washington, in 1937. William A. Pinkerton himself said the accounts of their death were false and, in 1921, stated that the last he had heard Sundance was in jail in Peru and Cassidy had escaped. At any rate, the agency never officially closed the books on the case.
Details about Etta Place are the sketchiest of all. She is alleged to have been either a prostitute or a schoolteacher (about the only two professions available to women in the Old West), but beyond that, no one knows or is in agreement on the biographical facts, except that Etta was quite attractive (evidenced by an existing photo of her and Sundance). Compounding the mystery, Etta was known to have signed her name "Ethel" on several occasions, and reportedly five other women connected with Cassidy's gang may have gone by the same name at various times. Some say she died with Butch and Sundance in South America, where she was their accomplice in a number of robberies, but most agree she returned to the U.S. before their deaths (possibly to treat some illness), and that she lived on for many years, dying anywhere between 1924 (a reputed suicide) and 1966 (natural causes). However, a woman named Bettie, who claimed to be Etta's daughter from the marriage she abandoned to run off with Sundance, said on her death bed in 1971, "Mother may still be living. She remarried and may have had other children." None of these stories have been verified, and the real Etta Place remains a mystery.
In 1965, William Goldman was a novelist and creative writing teacher at Princeton who had just broken into the film business with co-credit on a crime comedy, Masquerade (1965), and sole credit for the screenplay of a private eye movie starring Paul Newman, Harper (1966). Both were adaptations of novels, not original stories. But eight years earlier Goldman had become taken with the legend of then nearly forgotten outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and spent that time thinking about and researching their life stories before finally sitting down to write the first draft of the screenplay during his holiday break in December 1965 and January 1966.
Several elements of the outlaws' story fascinated Goldman: Butch had become a Western legend in his own lifetime; he was known to be a very likable fellow who was not particularly good with a gun. He was so likable that, according to his myth, he refused to swear off a life of crime in exchange for parole from jail but was granted it anyway when he promised the governor never to commit a robbery in his state again. What especially appealed to the writer was the fact that the two fled the law for South America and re-emerged as legends a second time. Goldman said he was very moved by these people who died "in a foreign place not speaking the language." In truth, they probably did eventually speak at least passable Spanish because they lived in South America for several years and worked as ranchers during that time.
While writing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Goldman said he had in mind the notion of "stupid courage," a trait that had moved him since childhood and stuck in his head after viewing such films as Gunga Din (1939). That notion emerged in his screenplay in the famous jump off the cliff into the rapids and the final dialogue scene in which Butch and Sundance, trapped and badly wounded, tend to their injuries and talk blithely about their next move before charging into the open with guns blazing for what is quite likely their fatal last stand. Goldman later commented on these two scenes. "The jump off the cliff...has turned out to be the most important scene of my life. I can argue that everything good that has come out of my relationship with Hollywood was because of that scene." And of the finale: "It's the best ending I've ever been involved with."
Several years later, Goldman noted some problems he had when writing the script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. One was that there was a lot less actione.g., shoot-outs, barroom brawls, stampedesthan in the standard Western. But he felt this was acceptable in realizing the true nature of the story, the relationship of these two men and their connection to the Etta character. He also knew he was writing something that had an abundance of humor, but he felt it wasn't funny enough to be strictly a comedy. He didn't want to add more humor to it, however, because "if the movie was too funny, the ending wouldn't work, the audience wouldn't have cared enough if they died." Goldman said he ended up taking his cue from a comic genius, Jack Benny, whom he had seen in performance years before. Benny, he noted, didn't have a string of killer jokes or the sustained hilarity of other comedians of his day, but people genuinely liked him, were taken with his quirks and mannerisms, and willing to "follow him anywhere." This convinced Goldman he was right in building the story around the relationship of Butch and Sundance, making the characters "as inviting, and at the same time as unusual" as he could.
The other issue Goldman encountered was the fact that Butch and Sundance ran away which was not a typical trait for Western heroes and legends. Yet he wanted to stay true to the historical facts, and he was intrigued by solving the problem. His solution was to bend the true details slightly. Although there was, in fact, a "superposse" composed of the top law enforcers of the day (put together by railroad magnate E.H. Harriman to get the outlaws), they never actually chased the real Butch and Sundance; the duo simply left the country when they heard about the trackers. So Goldman invented the lengthy chase and the famous "Who are those guys?" sequence that culminates in the cliff jump. Goldman felt this would make Butch and Sundance immensely appealing to audiences who would end up rooting for their eventual escape.
Goldman tried to stay true to most of the "facts" about the duo that had come down through the years, but not everything made it into the finished film. He originally called the gang the "Wild Bunch," but Sam Peckinpah's film of that name (released a few months earlier) forced a title change to "Hole in the Wall Gang." A scene written to show Sundance returning to his boyhood home in the East was replaced with the New York montage. In the South America segment, he originally had the characters age to reflect the number of years they spent there, but that was also dropped. "My movie script was darker than the film because of these elements," he said. The dynamiting of the train cars with the same loyal railroad employee, Woodcock, inside, was also true and made it into the final film. There are even photos in existence of the damaged shells of the original trains blown up by Butch and Sundance.
Goldman decided to make Etta a teacher because he had seen a photo of the real-life woman and decided she was too young and pretty to be a prostitute. In fact, most women of that profession in the old West looked haggard, unhealthy and coarse in the photos he had seen of them.
The script was originally titled "The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy."
The finished script of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was shopped around to several studios. One executive famously rejected it because of the flight to South America. He wanted the outlaws to stay in the U.S. and fight the superposse to the death. When Goldman argued it really happened the way he wrote it, the executive insisted he didn't care because "John Wayne don't run away."
The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid screenplay was quickly snatched up by Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th Century Fox, for $400,000, the most that had been paid for a screenplay up to that time and twice as much as Zanuck was contracted by his board to spend on a single script. Paul Monash was assigned as producer. (He was bumped up to executive producer when Paul Newman signed on and his business partner John Foreman became producer.)
Goldman had written the script with Jack Lemmon in mind for Butch and Paul Newman for Sundance. Some reports claim Newman initially passed on the script, but the actor later said, "From the second I read it, I knew it was going to be a movie that everybody connected with it could look back on with some sense of pride."
Steve McQueen became interested in playing Butch and wanted Newman to consider doing Sundance. At this point, George Roy Hill signed on as director, but he said he would only do it if the roles were reversed. Newman didn't want to play Butch, pleading with Hill to watch what Newman considered one of his worst performances in the comedy Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys! (1958). "I'm a terrible comic actor," Newman insisted, but became more convinced when Hill told him he didn't have to go for the jokes, but to just play it straight.
McQueen reportedly dropped out over billing issues. He and Newman were the biggest stars in the business at the time so various plans were suggested for the billing - putting the second name on a higher level graphically than the first billed; having one star's name first for half the world distribution and the second star's for the other half). Unfortunately, an agreement couldn't be reached so McQueen walked.
After McQueen's departure, Hill decided he wanted to cast the less known and less established Robert Redford. The studio refused and began courting Marlon Brando and Warren Beatty. Zanuck thought Redford was no more than a bland pretty boy, and Newman at first considered him too much of a "Wall Street lawyer" type. Eventually he sided with Hill (partially convinced of Redford's rightness by Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward), and the two pressured Zanuck until he relented.
Redford's later recollection of his assessment of the script was a bit more qualified than Newman's: "There was probably a little fear that it was maybe either a little too clever or too much fun and games, but it was still a very attractive script. Very well written."
by Rob Nixon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
In addition to some studio interiors and exteriors, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed on location in various parts of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and for the Bolivia scenes, Cuernavaca and Taxco, Mexico. The cast and crew enjoyed the location work. Robert Redford: "We had the best locations possible, to my mind. We had Zion National Park [Utah]; Durango, Colorado...You rode through that, it was a joy."
Goldman and the actors had high praise for George Roy Hill's direction. Goldman wrote that he couldn't say what the producers' contributions were to the picture because "on a George Roy Hill film, George is the giant ape. Because of his vast talent, his skill at infighting, his personality, he runs the show." Newman said Hill never displayed "any hesitation or indecision; he knew precisely what he wanted in a scene, what he wanted from an actor."
Newman, who was reluctant to do a comic role, said he thought he was scaling his performance "a little too high, a little too broad," but Hill got him to do less and find his own level of wry humor that fit the character.
Goldman, who had worked with Newman on Harper (1966), said of him, "Newman is the least star-like superstar I've ever worked with. He's an educated man and a trained actor and he never wants more close-ups. What he wants is the best possible script and character he can have. And he loves to be surrounded by the finest actors available, because he believes the better they are the better the picture's apt to be, and the better he'll come out. Many stars, maybe even most, don't want that competition."
In an on-set interview, Newman discussed his daily routine with columnist Rona Jaffe, including getting up at 5:30 each morning, spending an hour in the pool and sauna, and phoning his wife Joanne Woodward three times a day.
Newman and Redford hit it off right away. Redford: "We found a common ground of humor and values off the set that could be worked into the work on the set." Newman said he and Redford "drank a lot of beer in Mexico and had a great deal of fun...probably the most fun I ever had on a film." The two actors, and screenwriter Goldman, have all spoken about how rewarding and enjoyable the experience was. Redford has said he "felt guilty getting paid," and Newman said the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was more valuable to him than the lasting impact of it.
Redford did not agree with Newman on the need for rehearsal, feeling that it lessens the spontaneity, but he conceded out of respect for his co-star.
Newman often kidded Redford about his tardiness, once suggesting they should rename the movie "Waiting for Lefty" (Redford is left-handed).
Practical joker Newman sawed Hill's desk in half "because he wouldn't pay his bill for liquor which he borrowed from my office."
The only major conflict between Newman and Hill occurred over what became known as "the Bledsoe scene," a break in the extended superposse chase when Butch and Sundance go to visit an old sheriff hoping to get his help enlisting them in the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War. Newman felt the scene should come at the end of the chase and be the motivation for their flight to South America. Hill disagreed strongly. Every day, Newman came on the set with fresh arguments for why it should be done his way and with increasing passion for his opinion. "Paul was becoming almost anal about it," noted Redford, who at one point jokingly suggested they rename the film "The Bledsoe Scene." Ultimately, Hill won the argument.
The use of music in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was also a controversial point. Burt Bacharach worked at writing something that would fit the mood, but it was definitely a modern pop sound and not of the period. The most discussed aspect was the insertion of the musical bicycle scene interlude, something that wouldn't work in a conventional Western. Still, Bacharach thought Hill had "guts" to attempt that in the genre. The song "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" was written after the rough cut was completed, and when Redford first saw it in the movie, he thought it was terrible. The agents for singer B.J. Thomas regretted letting him do it, and thought it would ruin his career.
The second extended musical interlude was the photo montage of the trio's visit to New York. Goldman initially planned it as a live-action sequence and hoped to shoot it on the sound stage at Fox built for this production of Hello, Dolly! (1969), which was set in the city in roughly the same turn-of-the-century period. The Dolly producers refused but did allow Hill to shoot stills there.
Robert Redford wanted to do all his own stunts. Paul Newman was especially upset about Redford's desire to jump onto the train roof and run along the tops of the cars as it moved. Redford said Newman told him, "I don't want any heroics around here...I don't want to lose a co-star."
Redford and Newman did jump off the cliff in Colorado, but they actually landed on a mattress-cushioned ledge six feet below. The full jump was performed by stunt men at another location.
Newman also did his own stunts in the bicycle scene, except for the final backwards crash through the fence, which was reportedly performed by cinematographer Conrad Hall.
Much has been made over a scene written by Goldman that was shot but never put into the final version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Hill had used several devices (such as the opening newsreel footage and the sepia sequences) to call attention to the film as a piece of fiction, thereby foregrounding the effect of media and popular culture on the creation of the Butch and Sundance myth. This was an important element of a scene in which Cassidy, the Kid, and Etta are in a Bolivian cinema and see a screen re-enactment of their gang, depicting Butch and Sundance as ruthless killers gunned down by the law. As the two men watch incredulously, shouting at the screen that it didn't happen that way, Etta walks off to the station to catch the train that would begin her journey back to America. In an earlier scene, she had told the men she would do anything for them except stay and watch them die, and Hill felt that this was sufficient and that the inclusion of the movie theater scene would have been "a little heavy-handed and unnecessary." Many others wanted him to keep the scene in, but he decided it was contrived. Unfortunately, the scene would have probably given Etta's character more depth and dimension.
Although Goldman wrote the dialogue for the final scene in which the characters, instead of showing awareness of their doomed situation, talk about a possible move to Australia, it was reportedly Hill who had the idea of showing them tenderly bandaging each other's wounds. About halfway through production, Hill told Screen International magazine he also decided to end the picture on a freeze frame, "leaving them in almost mythic form...I have no stomach for real violence. My back was out when I was working on the film, and so they padded me around on a stretcher. While being driven to and from location, I managed to figure out the whole ending, and I don't think I would have done so had I not been so incapacitated."
Cinematographer Conrad Hall said he overexposed much of the film because he thought the lightness of the story did not require dramatic lighting and color, but that Fox and DeLuxe (the color film processing company) brought back a lot of the richness of tones, as was their trademark style.
Hall said it was Hill's decision not to show the posse very clearly and that radios were used to coordinate shooting them from a great distance. He was especially pleased with the fortuitous timing in some of those scenes, such as one shot where Newman and Redford come over the rocks, just before they leap, and the posse is seen at the last moment, far off in a small clearing. "I operated [the camera for] that one myself," Hall told interviewer Leonard Maltin. "I'm a good operator, and I love to do it....I like to do it whenever I can."
Hall was not pleased with the night shots in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, such as the one in which a man is selling bicycles down on the street. He thought they had too much light and shadows and told Maltin he preferred really dark night shots, such as the ones in Bonnie and Clyde (1967).
by Rob Nixon
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The tagline for the ad campaign for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) was "Not that it matters, but most of it is true." What does matter is that the film is a wonderfully entertaining western which at once debunks the myth of the Old West, and mourns its passing. What also matters is that it gave huge boosts to the careers of stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, director George Roy Hill, and screenwriter William Goldman.
Butch and Sundance are a pair of amiable, not-too-bright robbers, members of the legendary Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. But they're finding it harder to practice their profession, since they're relentlessly pursued by a super-posse intent on wiping them out. They escape to Bolivia, and become legends all over again as the "Yanqui banditos," but once again the law closes in.
Writer William Goldman was fascinated with the saga of Robert Leroy Parker (AKA Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longbaugh (AKA the Sundance Kid), which, surprisingly, had never been made into a film before. Goldman researched their story on and off for eight years before writing the screenplay. During that period, he was writing novels (Harry Longbaugh was one of the many pseudonyms he used) and eventually, screenplays. Most of the story was, indeed, true. It's true that Butch never killed anyone until he got to Bolivia and he really did use too much dynamite to blow up a safe, destroying the money as well. A super-posse really was formed to hunt them down, and the boys really did run off to Bolivia because of it (although they left before the posse actually began pursuit). There really was an Etta Place, and she did go with them. The circumstances of the final shootout, if not the details, are also true.
Goldman wrote the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Jack Lemmon and Paul Newman in mind for the leads. 20th-Century-Fox, which bought the script, had other ideas. They thought Newman was fine, but wanted Steve McQueen as his co-star. McQueen was interested...until he found out that Newman would get top billing. Fox head of production Richard Zanuck tried and failed to get Marlon Brando, then offered the part to Warren Beatty. Newman was not happy about that, and was having other doubts, too. His past efforts at comedy had flopped, and he decided he couldn't play comedy. Director George Roy Hill had to convince him otherwise, eventually persuading the actor to support his own choice for Sundance - a rising young actor named Robert Redford.
Newman and Redford became fast friends, and all of the participants remember a production filled with raucous but friendly arguments, and many practical jokes. Even a problem in filming one sequence was turned into an asset. The New York montage had been written as a dialogue scene and Hill hoped to shoot these sequences on a huge New York set which had been built for Hello Dolly! (1969), then in production. But Hello Dolly! would not open until after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Fox executives didn't want to dilute the set's impact, so they refused Hill permission to use it. Possibly inspired by photographs of the real Butch, Sundance, and Etta in New York, Hill settled for shooting stills on the Dolly sets, and making the sequence a montage of the photos. It proved to be an excellent pacing device, and an effective marker between the two halves of the film.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid received mixed reviews from the critics, but the public cast the final vote. The film took in well over $30 million, and became the highest grossing western in history. Paul Newman became king of the box office that year, and Robert Redford became a bankable star. George Roy Hill and William Goldman also became major Hollywood players. The film won four Academy Awards; for the song, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," and for cinematography, screenplay, and original score. It was nominated for three more: Best Picture (Midnight Cowboy won), Best Direction, and Best Sound. Hill, Newman and Redford reunited for The Sting (1973), which was even bigger at the box office than Butch Cassidy, and won a Best Picture Oscar.
The affection both Newman and Redford felt for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and their characters is evidenced in the names they've given to their favorite personal projects: Redford's Sundance Institute, a center for training and supporting new filmmakers, and Newman's Hole-in-the-Wall camp for children with debilitating illnesses.
Director: George Roy Hill
Producer: Paul Monash, John Foreman
Screenplay: William Goldman
Editor: John C. Howard, Richard C. Meyer
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Costume Design: Edith Head
Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith, Philip Jefferies
Music: Burt Bacharach
Cast: Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy), Robert Redford (Sundance Kid), Katharine Ross (Etta Place), Strother Martin (Percy Garris), Henry Jones (bike salesman), Jeff Corey (Sheriff Bledsoe), Cloris Leachman (Agnes), Ted Cassidy (Harvey Logan), Kenneth Mars (Marshal).
By Margarita Landazuri
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Awards and Honors
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Sound; it won for Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Score and Song ("Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head").
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ranked as the #73 Greatest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute in 2007, and #7 on its 2008 list of the greatest Westerns.
In 2003, the National Film Preservation Board selected Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as one of the American cinema treasures to be preserved in the Library of Congress National Film Registry.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid received British Academy Awards for Best Film, Actor (Robert Redford), Actress (Katharine Ross), Cinematography, Direction, Music, Editing, Screenplay, and Soundtrack. Newman was also nominated for Best Actor.
Other awards: The Golden Globe Award to Bacharach for his score plus nominations for Best Motion Picture-Drama, and Screenplay, and Song
The Writers Guild of America gave William Goldman its award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen, and the Directors Guild of America nominated Hill for his work.
Bacharach's score also won a Grammy Award and, in 1988, the theme song won an ASCAP Award as a Most Performed Feature Film Standard.
Paul Newman was named the #2 box office attraction for 1969.
The Critics' Corner: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
"Paul Newman at 44 is mellowing and maturing as an actor, with a quiet magnificence. ... Newman performs in a delightfully light and at times fey style, underplaying shrewdly, essaying comedy scenes...with an ease and insouciance I have never seen him display in such measure before.... He all but hands the picture to Robert Redford, who...is given a chance to display his arresting and distinctive talents...[infusing] his characterization with a compelling synthesis of lethal malevolence and human sentiment."
Lawrence Quirk, Screen Slants
"Mr. Goldman makes the stuff of legendary human, telling the tale of two men who run their crooked route with gusto and guts.... And not the least of the pleasures is the emergence of Redford as the fine actor he is in a role worthy of his talents, which include keeping Newman from making the entire movie his own."
Judith Crist, New York
"Production is episodic, but George Roy Hill's direction is so satisfying in catching full value of the Goldman screenplay that a high degree of interest is sustained...Newman and Redford both sock over their respective roles with a humanness seldom attached to outlaw characters, and Miss Ross...is excellent."
Whitney Williams, Variety, September 10, 1969
"George Roy Hill is a 'sincere' director, but Goldman's script is jocose; though it reads as if it might play, it doesn't, and probably this isn't just Hill's fault."
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, September 27, 1969
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid must have looked like a natural on paper, but, alas, the completed film is slow and disappointing. This despite the fact that it contains several good laughs and three sound performances. The problems are two. First, the investment in superstar Paul Newman apparently inspired a bloated production that destroys the pacing. Second, William Goldman's script is constantly too cute and never gets up the nerve, by God, to admit it's a Western."
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, October 13, 1969
"Every character, every scene, is marred by the film's double view, which oscillates between sympathy and farce. As Butch and the Kid, respectively, Paul Newman and Robert Redford are afflicted with cinematic schizophrenia. One moment they are sinewy, battered remnants of a discarded tradition. The next they are low comedians whose chaffing relationship-and dialogue-could have been lifted from a Batman and Robin episode."
Time, September 26, 1969
"The film gives a highly romanticized version of the exploits of two real outlaws...Cheerfully eclectic in style, and reminiscent of a range of films which includes Jules et Jim  and Bonnie and Clyde , it achieves its own distinctive charm and poignancy, with added appeal from its musical score and theme song..."
- The Oxford Companion to Film
"One of the funniest if slightest Westerns of recent years. Unashamedly escapist, ... the script is often hilarious, Newman and Redford making the best use of it when they get to parry dialogue with each other. It is much better and funnier than The Sting  precisely because it allows the two stars to play off each other."
Rod McShane, Time Out Film Guide (Penguin, 2000)
"The slick escapade alternates slapstick with pathos, leading to a grim ending that doesn't suit the mood of the earlier scenes...Oddly, in some ways the screenplay reads better than it plays. One doesn't notice the anachronisms so much on paper. On screen it doesn't quite convey the feeling that this really is the Old West of fact or of legend or even of tall tales; it seems merely a modern colorful reshaping with a pair of bemused and essentially pathetic characters. The story is actually true, mostly, but the flip banter is in keeping with a Neil Simon play...Certainly the film is not nearly as sincere or important an effort as the contemporaneous The Wild Bunch , but it's a grand entertainment."
- Brian Garfield, Western Films
"This is just an excuse for writer William Goldman's witticisms and for the male leads to spark off each other, which they do beautifully. All of which makes it even more astonishing to recall the trouble the studio had casting this."
- The Rough Guide to Cult Movies
"Goldman's script is too flip and it really doesn't apply to the western genre. The awful scene in which Sundance has a woman (Katharine Ross) strip at gunpoint while we're kept in the dark that they really know each other and are already lovers is where the film goes awry - from that point on we realize that everything is done with the sole intention of getting an audience reaction."
- Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid might not have invented the modern buddy comedy, but it may as well have. While Lethal Weapon  screenwriter Shane Black was still toddling around playing cowboys and Indians, director George Roy Hill, cinematographer Conrad Hall, composer Burt Bacharach, stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford, and screenwriter William Goldman were meticulously crafting the gold standard for movies about rugged pals quipping and wisecracking their way through one perilous bonding situation after another...Though Hall's stunning vistas and gorgeous exploration of wide-open spaces hearken back to John Ford, Butch Cassidy otherwise radiates the youthful energy, manic pop playfulness, and antic clowning of the French New Wave. The film's subversive attitude toward genres and genre-mashing echoes the pioneering work of Jean-Luc Godard, and Newman and Redford deliver an extended master class on the uses of old-school, twinkly-eyed movie-star charisma. Though the encroachment of the modern world in the form of super-posses, vengeful tycoons, and the taming of the once-wild West spell doom for the film's loveable anti-heroes, that smartass, incorrigible modernity is precisely what ensures Butch Cassidy's timelessness."
- Nathan Rabin, The Onion A. V. Club
Compiled by Rob Nixon