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Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid


Stylish and imaginative direction, a witty and intelligent screenplay, and the birth of a new screen pairing that provided off the charts chemistry are the primary selling points of a richly entertaining western called Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid that had me riveted to the screen from start to finish, quite the accomplishment for someone who HATES westerns.

This 1969 Oscar nominee for Best Picture is the fact based story of the title characters, played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their first screen pairing, the leaders of a group of outlaws known as the Hole in the Wall Gang, who rob banks and trains but when the law gets too close, they are forced to flee the country and start all over again in South America where they return to their old ways but things eventually get dangerous for them there too.

Throw into the mix a surprisingly adult love triangle for the 1960's: Etta Place (the lovely Katherine Ross) is a schoolteacher who, on the surface appears to be committed to Sundance, but there are clearly unresolved feelings between her and Butch as well. Etta even asks Butch at one point would they be together if she had met him first, but it doesn't really matter because the romantic lines and traditional boundaries regarding romance are entertainingly blurred here, providing a fascinating menage that accompanies the principal story.

Director George Roy Hill has mounted a western that breaks all the rules here...it is fascinating how much of the story Hill chooses to tell without the use of dialogue. The relationship between Butch and Etta is punctuated by the Oscar-winning song "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" and the trio's journey to South America is documented through some carefully crafted still photographs backed by Burt Bacharach's jazzy, Oscar-winning score. Some of the most telling moments between the three principal characters come through in these photographs and advance story smoothly without giving too much away. I also like the fact that Butch and Sundance's only motivation for what they do is profit...they are not interested in hurting people and when they do, it is purely in self defense. Even their victims seem to have a semblance of respect for the Hole in the Wall Gang...I love when they approach a train and all the passengers stick their heads out the windows to watch the guys work. They are smarter than most of the characters in the movie but never rub their faces in it.

William Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay is rich with laughs, even though this film is not even close to resembling a comedy...the laughs come from flawed and human places and characters who understand each other and care about each other. It's so funny watching Etta teaching the guys pertinent Spanish phrases they will need to rob banks and watching Butch later read them off a piece of paper in the midst of a robbery...I was on the floor.

Newman has rarely been so sexy and charismatic onscreen and Redford compliments him perfectly, a screen chemistry that rivals Lemmon and Matthau. Ross is a mature and enchanting leading lady, light years away from her previous role as the virginal Elaine Robinson in The Graduate, not to mention perfectly complimenting both of her leading men. Hill has mounted a winning story here, which also includes some gorgeous Oscar winning cinematography and effective sound editing as well. Hill, Newman, and Redford reunited four years later for The Sting, which won seven Oscars, including one for Hill, but I still think this is Hill's masterpiece.