Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 17: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

17. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Western, Crime, 110 minutes
Directed by George Roy Hill
Starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross

This movie works because of the comedy and the chemistry between Newman and Redford. It's not a traditional Western by any means. The focus is on the characters of Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Redford) and they are more important than the plot itself.

We learn that Butch is the leader of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang and that he leads because of his superior intelligence. When he's challenged by one of the other members, he wins by trickery rather than superior strength or physical skill. In contrast, Sundance is deadly with a weapon in his hand, but he allows Butch to deal with mundane details such as which bank to rob next.

There's a great deal of comedy in this movie. Some of it is genuinely funny and you won't have to force yourself to laugh. The acting is good, but the tone is rarely serious. There are too many one-liners for us to take things completely seriously.

The story is pretty simple. The Hole-in-the-Wall gang makes a living by robbing trains and the owner of the railroad decides to put a stop to it. He hires a posse made up of people who rarely or never stray from their home territory. The posse foils a robbery and chases Butch and Sundance into the surrounding hills. After managing to escape in unlikely fashion, Butch and Sundance decide to flee to Bolivia and rob banks for a living.

The other main character in the story is Etta (Ross), who is a schoolteacher and Sundance's girlfriend. She gives the trio an air of respectability and helps them overcome some of the language problems in Bolivia.

With the exception of a musical number that seems completely out of place, the movie flows well. It does a good job of showing the contrast between the glamor of crime and the consequences of that lifestyle. There's very little action compared to typical Western's, but that's a good thing in this case.

If you like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:

Another Western that mixes comedy and serious situations well is True Grit. If you're a fan of John Wayne, the original 1969 version is the one to see. The recent Coen brothers remake is also excellent and contains strong performances from Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon.

For those who just like to see Newman and Redford on the screen together, take a look at The Sting. George Roy Hill directs again and it's set in 1930s Chicago. It won seven Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.

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