Sunday, November 7, 2010

Friday Night Films: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

This week our movie night was switched to Sunday. I didn't mind so much as I had finally convinced my sister that we should watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I had watched the movie for the first time in a high school class entitled "Music in Movies" and became instantly infatuated with the witty and sarcastic quips of Paul Newman and Robert Redford's camaraderie. I had unsuccessfully tried a few times to convince my sister to watch this while it was being played on TV. She had expressed doubts that she was not a huge fan of Westerns. I can agree in a way, as Westerns are also one of my least favorite genres. However, I had pleaded with her to give it a chance--it wasn't really a Western after all, more of a buddy comedy disguised in Western clothing.

During this viewing I became aware of several things I had never given much thought to before. I was moved by the breathtakingly artistic shots at the beginning of the film. Paul Newman's face seemingly glowing thanks to the sepia tones.

I loved how both their reputations spoke for themselves so simply. It was a perfect way to open the film. Butch Cassidy makes a witty remark about the shame in getting rid of such a beautiful bank, and the Sundance Kid shows off his remarkable gun skills. Two men, two friends, two outlaws---that we love.

This time I was also sensitive to the unfortunate sadness that emerges around Butch and Sundance. Both men are stuck in a cycle--practically addicted to the fine art of bank robbing like a couple of junkies, their lives revolve in a constant circle. Like the lone shot of the bicycle wheel slowly rotating,

Butch and Cassidy go from one close call, to the next without ever realizing that it doesn't have to be that way. My sister was annoyed by this fact I think, and so was I in a way now that I think about it. Like all great tragic heroes however, there has to be something that prevents them from having it all.

Another discovery I had made this time around was another sad realization, that Etta was heartbroken. Without knowing whether or not her true heart resided within Sundance or Butch (I think in this case it's safe to assume she did love both of them) we can see that her real heartbreak involves the very same thing that aggravated us. After offering up suggestions of other things they could do besides bank robbing, Sundance and Butch seem to shoot down almost everything, claiming they didn't know how to do it, when really the two fearless outlaws are afraid of a world that does not revolve around robbing banks. They refuse to embrace the new-- the bicycle, and stick to their horses and criminal activity. In the moments that Etta tells the men she'll be going back alone, there is such a beautiful sadness that reads in her eyes.

Back in Wyoming, she had told them that there was only one thing she would not do, and that is see them die. In this moment, Etta understands that they will never change, and because of it they will sooner or later end up dead and she cannot bare to witness it. In some ways however, she already has, and perhaps that is where the true sadness forms.

In this viewing, I really felt for Etta. Not solely because I was now keen enough to realize that Katharine Ross was from both The Graduate and The Stepford Wives, but because she was such an interesting character I had never given much thought to before. In a very male driven story, Etta--the only female in the film not associated with a brothel, is surprisingly gutsy, smart and driven. She even becomes a vital part of their bank robbing plans in Bolivia, and demands that they learn their Spanish before trying anything stupid. Etta Place was something that Butch and Sundance truly valued but in they end they valued their outlaw status more.

Overall Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one entertaining piece of film. There's so much to feel good about, that it seems odd we are able to laugh and smile even in Butch and Sundance's lowest moments. Even in times where it looks like their luck has run out we can still feel happy because they make it so. Their camaraderie has inspired a wealth of buddy comedies, acting as a foundation for many of the best comedic duos we see today. They are the ultimate example of the complexities of relating to the bad guy. Our perceptions of who is good and who is bad is greatly altered in the film. We despise the lawmen, the civil righters, the people that obey the law--and we idolize, and cherish two bank robbers.

Even in their last moments we find that it's hard to hold back a smile. Bleeding, pale and just barely defeated (but not quite) Butch Cassidy still has his charms.

The two make plans about their next destination, all the while unaware of the Calvary's arrival outside. It's a genius moment of dramatic irony, and while it doesn't seem likely that the two will survive, we still hold onto that shred of hope. In that last freeze frame, we don't see them die, which in turn keeps them alive in our minds. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid--two criminals, two heroes, two men that stole our hearts, and everything that comes in between.


le0pard13 said...

I simply love this film, Andre. The cast, William Goldman's witty and still relevant screenplay, and George Roy Hill's splendid direction make it so. It's why I devoted a short series to the film last year. Great look back at this. Thanks.

Pax Romano said...

Great review of a fantastic film. I have not watched this film in ages - it is a classic. You are right about Etta, she's an often overlooked character in the story but (as you say) the one with a broken heart.

Also, was Paul Newman the most handsome man ever, or what?

Andre Dumas said...

Thanks Le0pard I will have to check that out!

Pax-soooo dreamy. Although I'm still having hot flashes over how dreamy Robert Redford was in, The Way We Were. Good God, I had to fan myself off!

BRENT said...

Good review! It is so funny going through other people's blogs and finding reviews of films I myself have so recently watched and reviewed.
Butch Cassidy is such a one ! I watched this only a few nights ago and reviewed it the next day. I hadn't seen it in 25 years and was amazed at how good a film it really is.
AFI rate it as the 50th greatest American film ever made, which is hard to disagree with. It deserves its place amoung the greats of American cinema.
Also I had forgotten what a truely fine actor Paul Newman was. I read something of him after watching Butch Cassidy to find he had been nominated for 8 Oscars but winning only one. Not a bad record.
I will go to my grave stating that the cliff jumping scene is the most iconic and memorable stunt ever filmed. But I just love the bike scene and the song 'rain drops keep falling on my head'. Absolute fun and again a classic and memorable secene.
All round a truley great movie.