Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) is the likeably entertaining, charming and amusing comedy/drama of the friendship and camaraderie shared between the two handsome and humorous buddy leads - legendary, turn-of-the-century Western outlaws and their "Hole in the Wall" gang. Historical antecedents for the two daring "Robin Hood" outlaws actually existed, two notorious figures who were sadly anachronistic for their turn-of-the-century times:

  • "Butch Cassidy" (outlaw Robert Leroy Parker)

  • "The Sundance Kid" (outlaw Harry Longbaugh)

In the early 1900s, they came toward the tail-end of a long stream of bank/train robbers and highwaymen in the 19th century. Their exploits were perfect for a film that was intended to portray outlaws who mock and defy authority and the Establishment. After relentless pursuit by authorities, the train-robbing outlaws fled to Bolivia (after a brief stopover in New York City) with the Kid's schoolteacher-lover - hoping to find better luck.

The good-natured film, one of the most popular (and highest-grossing) westerns ever made, revived the careers of two 'golden-boy' Hollywood actors: superstar Paul Newman (in most of his previous films, he had been a rebellious loner - The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), and Cool Hand Luke (1967)), and newcomer Robert Redford, who had previously appeared in stage plays and only a few films (i.e., Barefoot in the Park (1967)). They would co-star again as big-screen buddies in George Roy Hill's Best Picture winner The Sting (1973) with ten Oscar nominations and seven wins. [Warren Beatty was originally slated for the Butch role, and Steve McQueen for the Sundance Kid role.] The flip-side of this light-hearted buddy picture was its major competitor of the year, the X-rated, dark Midnight Cowboy (1969) with its anti-heroes Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) and Joe Buck (Jon Voight).

Instead of the ultra-violence typical of other outlaw films, the screenplay (William Goldman's first screenplay - he also authored The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) and Marathon Man (1976)) and the direction of George Roy Hill focused on the endearing mis-adventures of the bandits/heroes, using impudent slapstick comedy, conventional Western action, contemporary music, and humorous dialogue to characterize the past and irreverently poke fun at typical western film cliches. The whimsical revisionist Western film, with the new "M" rating (for mature), although varying considerably in tone and mood, did so by imitating the styles of other cultish outlaw films, including director Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and the balletic graceful shootouts of Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969).

Of the seven Academy Award nominations, there were four Oscars: Goldman was awarded an Oscar for Best Story and Screenplay and Conrad Hall was honored for his cinematography. Two other statues went to Burt Bacharach for Best Song ("Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head," lyrics by Hal David) and Best Original Score. The other three nominations were Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Sound.

The film opens with the credits next to a sepia-toned "film within a film" of "The Hole In The Wall Gang." The silent flicker portrays the legendary outlaw gang holding up a train. The group's exploits in the newsreel-style film bear a resemblance to, and were said to have inspired one of the earliest classic films, The Great Train Robbery (1903), by Edwin S. Porter. A title card suggests that the film about legendary characters is reasonably authentic and factual:

Most of What Follows Is True

1. Apply Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code to the film. Which qualities do Butch and Sundance possess? Which do they not possess?

  1. A cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

  2. He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him.

  3. He must always tell the truth

  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.

  5. He must not advocate or possess radically or religiously intolerant ideas.

  6. He must help people in distress.

  7. He must be a good worker.

  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.

  9. He must respect women, his parents, and his nation's laws.

  10. The cowboy is a patriot.

  1. Many films of the 1960’s and early 1970’s did not offer large roles to women. What is Etta Place’s role in this film? How does her character depict women? Give examples from the film.

  1. Name two specific things you like about the film. Why? Name two specific things you disliked about the film. Why?

4. The archetypal western hero embodies the following traits:

a. Deadly proficiency with guns.

b. Outsider who doesn’t belong within society because his values and lifestyle are essentially anti-social.

c. Altruistic. Defends justice and order because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Are Butch and Sundance archetypal western heroes? Why or why not?

Which of these traits do they possess?

5. Based on the climate of the 1960’s (events and lifestyles taking place), why are Butch and Sundance appropriate representatives of this decade?
Directory: ~pmayhew

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