The basic story involves two likable cowboy criminals,
Butch Cassidy, a man of ideas, and the Sundance Kid, "all
action and skill," who use their combined talents to make
a living robbing banks and trains, with their "Hole in the
Wall Gang." However the country where they operate is becoming
civilized. After robbing a train, they find themselves being pursued
by a tireless posse, forcing them to make a hasty retreat, accompanied
by the woman they both love.
The film is a classic because of the great chemistry
between the stars, the humor, the excellent photography, and the
powerful ending. At a time when many Westerns were violent and
depressing, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" took
a lighter approach, with great success. "Butch Cassidy"
won Oscars for Original Score (Burt Bacharach), and William Goldman's
original screenplay, among others.
Key elements of the story, and its relationships,
were quite similar to the classic French film, "Jules et
Jim," (1961), a fact that was rarely commented on at the
time. In Utah, there really was a Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid,
and The Hole in the Wall Gang, that hung out around the Moab area,
who eventually did go to South America.
Their troubles begin when a hard-edged posse,
lead by a tough lawman, with a terrific Indian tracker, hired
by the railroad, start to pursue them after one of their robberies.
After a harrowing chase, where they escape by the skin of their
teeth, all three of them, Butch, Sundance and the woman they both
love, Etta Gates (Katharine Ross), take a vacation, spending some
of their ill -gotten funds, and then go to South America to work
their trade in Bolivia, where various consequences await them
This wonderful screenplay was written by William
Goldman, who won the Oscar for his efforts. Goldman also wrote
many other wonderful scripts, such as "All the President's
Men," "Marathon Man," and "Maverick."
The gifted direction was by George Roy Hill who
"showed his flair for directing actors in breezy situations."
Hill also directed "The World of Henry Orient," "Slaughterhouse-Five,"
"A Little Romance," "The Sting" (won an Oscar),
and "The World According to Garp."
Paul Newman and Robert Redford are perfectly
cast in the title roles. (Interestingly enough, Steve McQueen
was almost cast as the Sundance kid.) Paul Newman is most convincing
as the charming, easy-going Butch Cassidy, leader of the Hole
in the Wall Gang, who realizes that they will no longer be able
to make a living in Utah, by robbing trains. Redford plays the
quick on the draw gunslinger, cohort in crime. Together they bring
to life this marvelous screenplay.
Newman and Redford establish their characters'
characteristics well in an early scene, where he is playing poker
in a saloon. A fellow card player, not knowing who Sundance was,
and what deadly talents he was gifted with, accuses him of cheating,
inflaming Sundance. Butch Cassidy steps in and helps the accuser
see the light with some clever dialogue, saving the man's life.
Sundance was a bit psycho at times. This
incident also shows Butch Cassidy as a basically decent, nice,
thoughtful man, but who has chosen a life of crime nevertheless.
This winning combination of actors bought Director
Hill, and stars, Redford and Newman, all together again later,
reteamed for the equally classic film, "The Sting."
Cinematographer, Conrad Hall, did a fabulous job photographing
this film. He won an Oscar for his fine work.
The film has some classic lines: when Redford reveals to Newman
that he doesn't want to make the huge leap into a stream far below
because he can't swim, Newman responds, laughing, "Hell,
the fall will probably kill you." Then they leap, falling
a great distance into the water.
The film offered an early music video: Newman and Ross cavorting
on a bicycle as B.J. Thomas sings, "Raindrops Are Falling
On My Head," which was very popular at the time.