REVIEW: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

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After its release in 1969 “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” made a lot of money and garnered a lot of critical praise. It’s been called the ultimate buddy movie and some give it credit for reinventing the Western genre for a new generation. It received a total of seven Academy Award nominations, winning four of the golden statues and it has been lauded by many as a bonafide classic. But over the years there have been a few critics who have looked at the film through a more critical lens. Could it be that “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” hasn’t aged well or are there some legitimate issues that have always been there?

For me “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a terribly uneven film in several ways. It features several great and truly memorable moments but it also has stretches of redundancy which grinds things to a halt. Then there are lines of dialogue that are crisp and snappy but others that are glaringly lame or simply don’t feel like they belong in a western of its time. This movie rides a tonal roller coaster which made it feel a bit scattered and difficult to take seriously.

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Paul Newman was a megastar at the time and he was intended to be the centerpiece playing Butch Cassidy. This annoyed Steve McQueen who was set to play Sundance. After a disagreement over who got top billing, McQueen said adios which opened the door for a young Robert Redford. This turned out to be Redford’s star-making role and his performance was the standout. Newman is obviously a fine actor but surprisingly I didn’t see the usual charisma he brings to a role. Newman certainly has his moments but I feel he could have offered more especially considering the substantial investment in him.

Things certainly start off on a high note. We get a great scene showing Sundance being accused of cheating at a card game (a scene which features Sam Elliot’s big screen debut). There’s also a fun bit where Butch and Sundance return to their gang’s hideout and face a small mutiny (In the movie they were called The Hole in the Wall Gang because Cassidy’s real gang name The Wild Bunch was the title of the Sam Peckinpah film also due out that year). After squelching the uprising, the gang takes to holding up trains. The first robbery goes well but after botching their second attempt in a hysterical sequence, Butch and Sundance find themselves being pursued by an über-posse put together by a wealthy railroad tycoon.

Up to this point everything is popping. The movie sets itself up well and with the exception of the well-known bicycle scene filmed to B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (which I feel is overly long and oddly out of place), it’s impossible not to be taken in by the story. But then the movie hits a wall. We get a long, drawn out series of shots features the pair on the run from the posse of all posses. We see them riding across the Badlands, running up rocky cliffs, and then stopping to see if they have lost their pursuers. With a near mystical-like presence, the posse is always in the distance. We go through this cycle several times before finally moving in a new direction.

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Realizing the severity of their wanted status, Butch and Sundance round-up Etta (played by Katharine Ross), a young lady with an unusual relationship with the boys, and the three head to Bolivia. Once there the story follows almost the same blueprint as the first half – some really funny moments, some memorable scenes, and a dull stretch. And that is what makes “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” such a hard film to score. It has those times where it’s an absolute blast. It has its funny moments and the chemistry between Newman and Redford shines at certain points. Conrad Hall’s Oscar-winning cinematography is outstanding and it’s hard not to be smitten by the look of the film as a whole.

Unfortunately it’s hard for me to overlook the inconsistencies found in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. There are some obvious missteps which make me question how this film can be considered an all-time classic. But it certainly isn’t a terrible movie and I definitely recommend seeing it. Redford’s star launched from this flick and it still made a significant mark on movie history. It’s just not a movie that will find its way into my pantheon of all-time favorites.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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23 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

  1. A classic for the old-school Westerns. Only works as well as it does now because of the age-old chemistry between Redford and Newman that never seemed to run dry or hit a false note. Good review Keith.

    • I just have a hard time calling this one a classic and there are tons of westerns that I like better. But that’s not to say it’s bad. I just don’t believe it deserves the high praise it has received over the years.

  2. Lay off Keith! This is one of my fave movies of all time, and one of the best buddy movies ever! Newman and Redford are the definition of cool! I will agree that the “Raindrops” scene is slightly ‘of its time’ though!

    • Ouch! But I knew a lot of people love this movie. I rewatched it hoping to have a different reaction. I still like the movie but I certainly don’t love it. I still find it terribly uneven and It certainly didn’t capture or redefine the Western genre in my eyes. But I certainly respect the opinion of the majority. Lots of folks love this film.

      • But I think it was always supposed to be a light hearted take on the genre, rather than a definitive western. That’s what I think anyway. Glad you reviewed it thigh Keith!

      • Maybe so. But many treat it as a defining Western for a new generation. But lighthearted westerns had been done multiple times. It’s definitely unique but for some reason it just didn’t resonate with me. That said, it has several scenes that I absolutely love.

  3. Oooh, a great classic and one I happened to have seen, yay me 😀 I LOVE both Newman and Redford, both are ridiculously good looking (esp Newman) but also very talented. I REALLY need to see The Sting soon, that’s on my Blindspot this year 😀

  4. I can definitely see what you’re saying here Keith, but I still love this movie to death! Probably my favorite western (though John Ford’s Stagecoach is also a contender), mostly because of Newman and Redford. I actually like Newman better here as he seems to have more personality than Redford does somehow. It’s full of classic lines and that’s one reason I rate it so highly, but it does slow down A LOT once they start getting chased, which doesn’t even make sense. I also kind of hate most of the soundtrack, sounds like the 60s and not the old west. Even with all these drawbacks, I still love the movie. Great review!

    • Hey thanks so much for the comments and I completely respect your take on it. I don’t know, for me the movie just didn’t work well as a whole. I do appreciate some things about it. As I mentioned to someone else, there are several scenes that I absolutely love. I just wish I loved the movie as a whole.

  5. As much as I admire Newman and Redford I’m also one of the people who doesn’t get this movie.
    Experimental? Yes. Good acting? Yes. Good screenplay? Yes. But the whole just doesn’t add up for me. I just felt it was too meandering, and the story didn’t really come together until about 45 minutes in. I wanted to love it. But while I can appreciate it on a technical level, I just wouldn’t count this as a movie I really enjoy.

  6. I agree with your assessment. I too, like this movie not love it for much the sane reasons. I will say that I never thought it ever tried to be taken seriously and is purely a comedy that also happens to be a western. It seems people who call it a classic do so mostly on the strength of the chemistry between the stars and the memorable finale.

  7. I have always really loved this one, although that said, it’s been years since I watched it. Having read your thoughts Keith I might just have to rewatch it and see whether I still feel passionately for it!

    • You know, a lot of people really love the movie. I just don’t think it all works as well as others do. I keep coming back to the word “uneven”. That’s the best way for me to describe my feelings about it.

  8. I like this one a bit more than you, Keith, though I also think it has flaws (just different flaws). The real crux of my increased appreciation: I think the chase sequence is pretty brilliant. Love the interplay between Butch and Sundance and the slow emergence of their foibles. The chase, to me, is when the character development becomes the picture’s primary ingredient. So, sure, the plot takes a back seat, but the movie is still moving forward, I think.

    What flaws do I see? Etta. She is not well drafted. Neither, really, are the rest of the women.

  9. Nice job, Keith! I like the film ok but you pointed out some of the very same flaws that I cant seem to overlook whenever I watch it. But in essence, as a classic template for other westerns to come down the pipe, it holds up ok and the strange execution and pacing still distracts me. Still cool for a rainy afternoon if you need a western fix with good performances. Good work, man!

    • I know a lot of people really love the film but it’s not a true and genuine classic in my book. I certainly respect the adoration but I don’t necessarily agree with it.

  10. Agree wholeheartedly, Keith. It has such an iconic conclusion that I feel its flaws are often overlooked or forgotten about. Its reputation precedes it but I don’t feel it lives up to “classic” status, it’s merely a bit of fun.

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