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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

They’re taking trains, they’re taking banks, and they’re taking one piece of baggage!

Directed by:

George Roy Hill

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 110 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: 12

On DVD

Country: United States

In the late 1960s, Hollywood’s love affair with the Western was dying. The two had moved into separate beds, Hollywood had started seeing other genres, and poor old Western hadn’t even received as much as a bunch of flowers for ages. Then, in 1969, along came ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ – a film which would not only make a huge amount of money at the box office, but also pick up a whopping seven Oscar nominations (of which it won three). The Western, for a little while at least, was back in favour and had that spring in its step again.

So, what was ‘Butch Cassidy’s secret? Well, aside from splashing out big bucks on making sure Paul Newman – the golden boy of the time – took the lead role, it took the flagging genre and gave it a full-body make-over. Sure, William Goldman’s screenplay and George Roy Hill’s direction show an undeniable appreciation for the elements which made the Western what it is, but at the same time they added modern music (by Burt Bacharach, no less), stylish audience-friendly presentation and – most crucially of all – a sense of humour. Yup, there might be a serious storyline lurking behind this one, but best buds Butch and Sundance (the then-unknown Robert Redford) are just as quick with the one-liners as they are on the draw.

The story – self-consciously billed as only being “mostly” true – picks up with the pair of affable crooks leaving the infamous “Hole in the Wall Gang” and taking up train robbery. It’s a nice little earner while it lasts, but as you’d expect they make some dangerous enemies along the way, and it’s not long before they’re fleeing for the hills with a crack posse of trackers and bounty hunters on their tails. Joined by Sundance’s ladyfriend Etta (Katharine Ross) they make a break for Bolivia – only to discover that it’s rubbish there. What do they expect? It’s BOLIVIA.

Though not without its weaknesses (a couple of scenes are a bit cringey, namely Butch’s Dick Van Dyke-esque bicycle stunts and the extended ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head’ sequence), this is a wonderful film. Some of the moments in Bolivia, in particular, are genuinely hilarious, and Messrs Newman and Redford display the sort of genuine chemistry you seldom get to see between two actors. It’s perhaps true that some of Hill’s direction isn’t quite pacy enough, particularly in the middle segment during which the galloping-across-the-mountains stuff does tend to drag on a bit, but even that is saved with some nice humour and terrific acting.

I’ve watched a Helluva lot of Westerns over the years, but I struggle to think of any more enjoyable or accessible than ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’. The Western formula might not get brought out of cold storage too often these days, but this film’s buddy blueprint still gets used all the time – though rarely, if ever, with such overwhelming success as it is here.

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It's Got: The funniest bank robbery scene outwith ‘Quick Change’.

It Needs: Swimming lessons. It’s never too early, and all that.

DVD Extras Some cast and crew interviews filmed back in 1994, a decent 40-minute ‘making of’ documentary, and an option of audio commentary with director Hill, associate producer Robert Crawford, cinematographer Conrad Hall and – slightly bizarrely – lyricist Hal David. Version reviewed: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid DVD Extras Rating: 6/10

Alternatives:

The Sting

Summary

It might have been Hollywoodized beyond any conceivable level of factual accuracy, but it remains one of the best Westerns ever made – and a whole lot of fun to watch, too.

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