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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Tuesday June, 11 2019 at 08:00 PM

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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).
C-112m. Letterboxed.

By Margarita Landazuri

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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