Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
This week I thought I'd go back in time for the review. In actual fact, this week, this is the only DVD I've watched due to other fun things I've been doing. I'm even listening to the commentary track as I write this so I can tell you about that this time. The reason I picked this film is fairly simple – I went to a nice shop, and they had 2-for-1 on posters so I invested: the new Two Towers poster, something arty for the living room, and a picture of the final shot of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. This made me decide that I wanted to re-watch the film (it's one of my favourites), and I finally got round to it.
So, all film buffs know that this is one of the classics: Redford and Newman, a buddy film in which neither star tries to steal the picture from the other, upbeat, some action, and a darn good ending. It begins with filmed newsreel footage of Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall Gang, a group of outlaws who lived by robbery. Butch is the leader and the brains of the outfit – as Sundance says: 'You just keep thinking Butch, that’s what you're good at.' The Kid, meanwhile, is Butch's pal, not quite one of the gang, and the fastest draw around. In addition – he can't swim.
Brief plot synopsis
I really don't want to give anything away; it would spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet. The set up takes a short while; we're introduced to Butch, Sundance, and Etta – Sundance's girl. The catalyst for the main body of the film is the hold-up of the Flyer – a train carrying a safe full of money belonging to Mr E.H Hermann of the Union Pacific railroad. Mr Hermann is so irate that he hires a group of top-notch lawmen and trackers to follow Butch and Sundance until they're arrested or dead. The intrepid duo manage to escape the group in the USA by way of a few stunts, and several memorable quotes ('I couldn't do that, could you do that? How do they do that?') Then the pair head off to Bolivia with Etta who agrees to go with them as long as she doesn't have to see them die. She teaches them enough Spanish to get back into bank robbing, and they begin the end of their career. The film ends with them surrounded in a small town by a huge police force trying to capture the 'Banditos Yanquees'.
It is a fantastic film – Redford as Sundance in his first big starring role carries off a rather daft moustache and a large amount of close-ups of his very blue eyes to emerge with an incredible cool. Newman as Butch is pitch perfect; he had to learn not to try to be funny, but just to play it straight. He is incredibly engaging and open, and did his own bicycle stunts for the 'Raindrops keep falling on my head' scene. Katherine Ross as Etta manages to hold her own against these two, certainly as photogenic as either of them she injects a sweetness into the film, while not being particularly 'girlie' about things. The writer, William Goldman, mentions in his book 'Adventures in the Screen Trade' that he thinks the film occasionally suffers from what he refers to as an 'attack of the cutes', and indeed it can be very adorable in places – in the first musical interlude in particular, and Redford does occasionally appear to romancing Newman rather than Ross, but they don't overly harm the film at all. In addition to all this the film looks stunning, complementing its players and moves at a rapid pace, so that not even the long central chase drags.
This is a fairly impressive DVD package, particularly considering the lack of extras on DVDs of a great deal of old films (step forward in disgrace The Sting and Casablanca). Beautifully boxed it contains a commentary by the director George Roy Hill, the cinematographer Conrad Hall, Robert Crawford one of the producers, and Hal David the lyricist, a documentary on the making of the film, a selection of interviews with cast and crew, and a bunch of trailers.
I'm still listening to the commentary – I can't quite tell who's who, but then I'm not listening hugely carefully as I'm trying to write nicely too, but it is quite a lot of fun. Everyone talks about how much fun the film was too make (this reoccurs in the interviews as well). Hill illuminates the story about the how Steve McQueen was nearly cast as one of the pair, and how he had to fight to get Redford into the film. There is a long section in the Bolivia section where they talk about all the behind the scenes pranks including a Redford's desire for a fencing match. There are also some interesting titbits about the actual filming, particularly on the final scenes of the movie, and on the almost over the top nature of some sections.
The interviews come from 1994, in which the three stars, Burt Bacharach, the writer and director reminisce about the making of the film, with Paul Newman cautioning at the start of his section that people never remember things the same way, and a lot of loving nostalgia. The Making-of documentary is much better value, with footage from the filming, and talk about some of the difficulties of filming, including George Roy Hill's views on why Newman and Redford suited the roles they play. At 40 minutes long it's fairly comprehensive, with interesting details about the real Butch, Sundance and Etta. The trailers, credit roll and production notes are simply filler material, however, with this, as with all the best DVDs the film is the main reason you want to buy it, and the special features really are a bonus.