Archive for January 8th, 2009

Original 1969 reviews of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

January 8, 2009

Posted: Wed., Sep. 10, 1969

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

20th Century-Fox/Campanile. Director George Roy Hill; Producer John Foreman; Screenplay William Goldman; Camera Conrad Hill; Editor John C. Howard, Richard C. Meyer; Music Burt Bacharach; Art Director Jack Martin Smith, Philip Jefferies. Reviewed at 20th-Fox Studios, Hollywood, Aug. 26, ’69. MPAA Rating: M.


“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” aptly titled and bearing strong exploitation potential as well as the Paul Newman name for marquee voltage, should prove a handy entry for 20th-Fox. A lighthearted treatment of a purportedly-true story of the two badmen who made Wyoming outlaw history, film emerges a near-comedy of errors. Action dwells upon the misadventures of the pair as they pursue the outlaw trail, but more importantly, packs the type of fast movement the title indicates.

Newman plays Butch, one of the most deadly outlaws of the West whose gang variously was known as The Wild Bunch and Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Robert Redford, who costars with him, portrays the Kid, wizard with a gun and in real life a vicious killer. Here, the William Goldman script projects them in friendlier terms.

Butch is an affable, almost gay, individual who can turn on the power when he wishes but usually is a sociable, talkative sort of cuss; Redford, silent, menacing in the power of his fabled guns, displays no evidence of the evil temper which gained him his reputation. Together, they make a fine team, accompanied by frequent banter and modern-day dialog which makes them both interesting characters.

The John Foreman production is episodic, but George Roy Hill’s direction is so satisfying in catching the full value of the Goldman screenplay that a high degree of interest is sustained. Film openers engagingly with flash-on of the titles, as a small portion of the screen is devoted to the unreeling of what appears to be an old silent flicker of the earliest days of motion pictures, showing Butch and his gang staging a train hold-up. The click of the old-fashioned projector is heard to further set the mood for what is to come. Indeed, this filmic preamble will probably cause audiences to ignore the credits which accompany the clips.

Narrative starts in Wyoming where Butch and his gang are involved in various train holdups, pursuits by posses after bank robberies, efforts by Union Pacific president Harriman to capture the man responsible for his railroad’s losses. This leads to Butch and the Kid trying their luck in Bolivia, which Butch assures the Kid is a land of milk and honey. It isn’t, but they continue their outlawry despite the disappointments, to a grand climax as they take on practically the whole Bolivian army after their identity is discovered.

Novelty is inserted in an interlude sequence as the two outlaws and Katharine Ross, the Kid’s woman, pause in New York en route to sailing for South America. This is shown through a series of fast amusing oldtime stills of the period a la daguerreo-types as the trio is limited in various poses in Gotham, Coney Island, etc. Effective use is made of music in this sequence to give a lilting lightness to the whole idea.

Newman and Redford both sock over their respective roles with a humanness seldom attached to outlaw characters and Miss Ross, who shares star billing, is excellent as the understanding girl friend who refuses to remain with them in Bolivia to see them killed. George Furth, too, has an amusing brief bit as the agent on the express car who defies Butch during two different holdups.

Technical credits without exception are superior, topped by Conrad Hall’s color photography, Burt Bacharach’s music score, and editing by John C. Howard and Richard C. Meyer. B. J. Thomas sings Bacharach and Hal David’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”

1969: Best Original Story & Screenplay, Cinematography, Song (‘Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’), Original Score.

Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Sound

By Roger Ebert / October 13, 1969

20th Century-Fox presents a Newman-Foreman presentation, produced by John Foreman and directed by George Roy Hill

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” must have looked like a natural on paper, but, alas, the completed film is slow and disappointing. This despite the fact that it contains several good laughs and three sound performances.

The problems are two. First, the investment in superstar Paul Newman apparently inspired a bloated production that destroys the pacing. Second, William Goldman’s script is constantly too cute and never gets up the nerve, by God, to admit it’s a Western.

The premise was promising. Butch (Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) were two Western outlaws (unsung until now) who led a gang of cutthroat train robbers. But when Harriman, the railroad tycoon, got up a special posse of experts to hunt them, they lit out for Bolivia and stuck up banks there. You can see, in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the bones of the good movie that could have been made about them.

But unfortunately, this good movie is buried beneath millions of dollars that were spent on “production values” that wreck the show. This is often the fate of movies with actors in the million-dollar class, like Newman. Having invested all that cash in the superstar, the studio gets nervous and decides to spend lots of money to protect its investment.

That’s what happened here. The movie starts promisingly, with an amusing period-piece newsreel about the Cassidy gang. And then there is a scene in a tavern where Sundance faces down a tough gambler, and that’s good. And then a scene where Butch puts down a rebellion in his gang, and that’s one of the best things in the movie. And then an extended bout of train-robbing, climaxing in a dynamite explosion that’ll have you rolling in the aisles. And then we meet Sundance’s girlfriend, played by Katharine Ross, and the scenes with the three of them have you thinking you’ve wandered into a really first-rate film.

But the trouble starts after Harriman hires his posse. It’s called the Super-posse because it includes all the best lawmen and trackers in the West. When it approaches, the ground rumbles and we get the feeling it’s a supernatural force. Butch and the Kid try to hide in the badlands, but the Super-posse cannot be fooled. It’s always on their track. Forever.

Director George Roy Hill apparently spent a lot of money to take his company on location for these scenes, and I guess when he got back to Hollywood he couldn’t bear to edit them out of the final version. So the Super-posse chases our heroes unceasingly, until we’ve long since forgotten how well the movie started and are desperately wondering if they’ll ever get finished riding up and down those endless hills. And once bogged down, the movie never recovers.

It does show moments of promise, however, after Butch, the Kid and his girl go to Bolivia. There are some funny difficulties with Spanish, for example. But here the script throws us off. Goldman has his heroes saying such quick, witty and contemporary things that we’re distracted: it’s as if, in 1910, they were consciously speaking for the benefit of us clever 1969 types.

This dialog is especially inappropriate in the final shoot-out, when it gets so bad we can’t believe a word anyone says. And then the violent, bloody ending is also a mistake; apparently it was a misguided attempt to copy “Bonnie and Clyde.” But the ending doesn’t belong on “Butch Cassidy,” and we don’t believe it, and we walk out of the theater wondering what happened to that great movie we were seeing until an hour ago.

Original 1969 Reviews of Easy Rider

January 8, 2009

Easy Rider’: A Statement on Film

Published: July 15, 1969

“EASY RIDER,” which opened yesterday at the Beekman, is a motorcycle drama with decidedly superior airs about it. How else are we to approach a movie that advertises itself: “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere”? Right away you know that something superior is up, that somebody is making a statement, and you can bet your boots (cowboy, black leather) that it’s going to put down the whole rotten scene. What scene? Whose? Why? Man, I can’t tell you if you don’t know. What I mean to say is, if you don’t groove, you don’t groove. You might as well split.

I felt this way during the first half-hour of “Easy Rider,” and then, almost reluctantly, fell into the rhythm of the determinedly inarticu-late piece. Two not-so-young cyclists, Wyatt (Peter Fonda) who affects soft leather breeches and a Capt. America jacket, and Billy (Dennis Hopper), who looks like a perpetually stoned Buffalo Bill, are heading east from California toward New Orleans.

They don’t communicate with us, or each other, but after a while, it doesn’t seem to matter. They simply exist—they are bizarre comic strip characters with occasional balloons over their heads reading: “Like you’re doing your thing,” or some such. We accept them in their moving isolation, against the magnificent Southwestern landscapes of beige and green and pale blue.

They roll down macadam highways that look like black velvet ribbons, under skies of incredible purity, and the soundtrack rocks with oddly counterpointed emotions of Steppenwolf, the Byrds, the Electric Prunes — dark and smoky cries for liberation. Periodically, like a group taking a break, the cyclists stop (and so does the music) for quiet encounters—with a toothless rancher and his huge, happy family or with a commune of thin hippies, whose idyll seems ringed with unacknowledged desperation.

Suddenly, however, a strange thing happens. There comes on the scene a very real character and everything that has been accepted earlier as a sort of lyrical sense impression suddenly looks flat and foolish.

Wyatt and Billy are in a small Southern town—in jail for having disturbed the peace of a local parade—when they meet fellow-in-mate George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a handsome, alcoholic young lawyer of good family and genially bad habits, a man whose only defense against life is a cheerful but not abject acceptance of it. As played by Nicholson, George Hanson is a marvelously realized character, who talks in a high, squeaky Southern accent and uses a phrase like “Lord have mercy!” the way another man might use a four-letter word.

Hanson gets the cyclists sprung from jail and then promptly joins them. He looks decidedly foolish, sitting on the back of Wyatt’s bike, wearing a seersucker jacket and his old football helmet, but he is completely happy and, ironically, the only person in the movie who seems to have a sense of what liberation and freedom are. There is joy and humor and sweetness when he smokes grass for the first time and expounds an elaborate theory as to how the Venutians have already conquered the world.

Nicholson is so good, in fact, that “Easy Rider” never quite recovers from his loss, even though he has had the rather thankless job of spelling out what I take to be the film’s statement (upper case). This has to do with the threat that people like the nonconforming Wyatt and Billy represent to the ordinary, self-righteous, inhibited folk that are the Real America. Wyatt and Billy, says the lawyer, represent freedom; ergo, says the film, they must be destroyed.

If there is any irony in this supposition, I was unable to detect it in the screenplay written by Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern. Wyatt and Billy don’t seem particularly free, not if the only way they can face the world is through a grass curtain. As written and played, they are lumps of gentle clay, vacuous, romantic symbols, dressed in cycle drag.

“Easy Rider,” the first film to be directed by Dennis Hopper, won a special prize at this year’s Cannes festival as the best picture by a new director (there was only one other picture competing in that category).

With the exception of Nicholson, its good things are familiar things — the rock score, the lovely, sometimes impressionistic photography by Laszlo Kovacs, the faces of small-town America. These things not only are continually compelling but occasionally they dazzle the senses, if not the mind. Hopper, Fonda and their friends went out into America looking for a movie and found instead a small, pious statement (upper case) about our society (upper case), which is sick (upper case). It’s pretty but lower case cinema.

EASY RIDER, written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hooper and Terry Southern; directed by Mr. Hopper; produced by Mr. Fonda; presented by the Pando Company in association with Raybert Productions; released by Columbia Pictures. At the Beckman Theater, 65th Street at Second Avenue. Running time: 94 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America’s Production Code and Rating Administration classifies this film: “R—Restricted—persons under 16 not admitted, unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian”)

By Roger Ebert / September 28, 1969

Henry Fonda is said to have come out of “Easy Rider” a confused and puzzled man. He had worked in movies for 35 years and made some great ones, and now his son Peter was going to be a millionaire because of a movie Henry couldn’t even understand.

Where did those two guys come from, he wanted to know. What was their background? How did they set up that drug-smuggling deal? Where were they going? And what, oh what, did the movie mean?

I suspect many members of the Hollywood older generation believe, sincerely and deeply, that “Easy Rider” doesn’t have a story, and doesn’t mean anything, and that the kids are all crazy these days.

But in fact, director Dennis Hopper has done an old and respectable thing. He has told his story in cinematic shorthand, instead of spelling it out in dreary detail. Fifty years ago, Hollywood figured out that if you put the good guys in white hats you could eliminate 10 minutes of explanation from every Western. Hopper has applied this technique to the motorcycle movie. (He also has made a great film, but more of that later.)

Everybody “knows” that “Easy Rider” is tremendously popular with high school and college-age kids. But these kids apparently sprang into existence full-blown, and did not grow up or go to any other movie before they found this one. That’s the way Hollywood sees it. Hollywood believes in magic.

In fact, the same kids who did “Easy Rider” were on dates in the drive-ins a few years ago when “The Wild Angels” and “Hell’s Angels on Wheels” and all the other motorcycle pictures came along. When the Hollywood establishment was dismissing motorcycle movies as an unpleasant low-budget fad, the kids already knew that something was happening here. Because the Hell’s Angel, like the gangster, was a bad guy produced by the society he victimized and tied to it by a love-hate relationship that created some really neat sex and violence scenes.

And someday it was inevitable that a great film would come along, utilizing the motorcycle genre, the same way the great Westerns suddenly made everyone realize they were a legitimate American art form, “Easy Rider” is the picture.

In all the exploitation-type motorcycle movies, the central characters were outlaws from conventional society. They rejected the establishment values (but took them seriously enough to attach importance to putting them down). They used drugs and beat up each other, and cops hated them on sight. There was usually an ounce of worth in the hero, however.

Actors like Peter Fonda and Adam Roarke played gang leaders in the tradition of Brando. But, unlike Brando (in “The Wild One,”) they usually repented when they saw the suffering they’d caused. They didn’t repent all over the place, but they did repent, and if you looked close you could catch them at it in the last scene.

“Easy Rider” takes the gang leader (Fonda) and condenses his gang into one uptight archetype (played by director Hopper.) It takes the aimless rebellion of the bike gangs and channels it into specific rejection of the establishment (by which is meant everything from rednecks to the Pentagon to hippies on communes).

Fonda and Hopper specifically break with the establishment by smuggling cocaine across the Mexican border; that’s a no-no. But during most of the picture they have cash money hidden in their gas tanks, not dope. They sold their dope to the establishment (represented ironically by rock tycoon Phil Spector in a Rolls-Royce).

They sold out, that is. And now they want to go to Florida and retire.
So Fonda and Hopper the dope-smugglers are symbols of every earnest, hard working, law abiding, middle-class wage-slave selling his integrity to the establishment every day. (Whether you believe this is immaterial to the symbolism, which works anyway.)

But it’s hard to identify with the Fonda and Hopper characters. So Hopper and his co-writers Fonda and Terry Southern write in a brilliant character, Old George (played magnificently by Jack Nicholson). And when this alcoholic, tragic ACLU lawyer from a small Southern town enters the picture, suddenly that’s us there on the bike with Fonda. And the movie starts to work.

If you follow the story closely in “Easy Rider,” you find out it isn’t there. The rough-cut of the movie reportedly ran over three hours, and Hopper edited it to a reasonable length by throwing out the story details and keeping the rest. So the heroes are suspended in an invisible story, like falcons on an invisible current of air. You can’t see it, but it holds them up.

All of this divests a motorcycle movie of its weak point (the story) and develops its strong point (the role of the self-proclaimed rebel in a conformist society). It’s not just bike freaks who get in trouble when they challenge the establishment — it’s everybody, even Old George.

And yet, “Easy Rider” suggests, it’s not as simple as that. We almost forget that the Fonda and Hopper characters have also sold out. Victims can sell out just as well as their persecutors. They sold out because what they were trying to be was the mirror image of the rednecks in the truck, and neither life-style is healthy. And so there they were, their gas tanks stuffed full of bribes from the establishment, and you remember hearing somewhere that, in the South, “easy rider” is slang for a prostitute’s lover.

More From Berlin

January 8, 2009

“Three US independent productions will receive their world premieres at the Forum 2009,” announces the Berlinale: Andrew Bujalski‘s “Beeswax,” Matthew Hysell‘s “Marin Blue” and Bradley Rust Gray‘s “The Exploding Girl,” which is co-produced by So Yong Kim, whose “Treeless Mountain,” which premiered in Toronto, will also be screened. Bujalski has been posting his film in Seattle at Alpha Cine.

Today In 1969 – The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List

January 8, 2009

On January 8, 1969, the Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Maryland, Fort Washington Branch, was robbed by a man who escaped in a maroon Cadillac. Two of the victim tellers identified the robber as Billie Austin Bryant, for they remembered him as a customer of the bank prior to his conviction for bank robbery in 1968.

The FBI was immediately notified of this robbery and of the tentative identification of Bryant as the robber. Bryant’s wife was know to reside in an apartment in the Southeast Washington, D.C., area. Therefore, three FBI Agents proceeded to the vicinity of her residence to determine whether the maroon automobile had been seen in the area.

After determining that the Cadillac was not in the vicinity, the Agents decided to advise Bryant’s wife of the robbery in case Bryant tried to contact her. Unwittingly, the Agents passed Bryant’s wife descending the stairway as they proceeded to her apartment.

In response to a knock by one of the Agents, the door of the apartment was partly opened by a man who stated that Mrs. Bryant was not home. The Agents identified themselves and asked this individual if they could come in and talk to him. The man stated that since it was not his apartment he could not invite anyone inside. At this point, the individual began firing a gun point blank at the three Agents. After a quick succession of shots, he slammed the door. Two of the Agents were struck by the shots, and the third fired two shots into the closing door.

The third Agent immediately returned to the FBI car and radioed for assistance. The two wounded Agents, Edwin R. Woodriffe and Anthony Palmisano, were rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital where they were pronounced dead on arrival.

An intensive search of the surrounding area was conducted by the FBI, the Maryland State Police, the Prince George’s County Police, the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office, and the Metropolitan Police Department in an effort to apprehend Bryant. The manhunt by hundreds of FBI Agents and local officers included helicopters, dogs, and numerous roadblocks.

On January 8, 1969, warrants were issued charging Bryant with robbing the Citizens Bank and Trust Company of Maryland, Fort Washington Branch, and with killing the two FBI Agents. On the same date Bryant was placed on the FBI’s list of “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.”

At approximately 6:50 p.m., on January 8, 1969, a call was received at the Metropolitan Police Department from an alert citizen in an apartment house on Mississippi Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. This citizen reported he had heard noises in the attic above his apartment. He had heard about the FBI Agents being shot, and, since the shooting had happened in the immediate vicinity, he was suspicious of the noises.

A detective from the robbery squad of the Metropolitan Police Department responded to the call. After the detective announced his identity, a voice responded from the attic identifying himself as Billy Bryant. Bryant stated that he had climbed into the attic and the door had jammed, trapping him.

Bryant was placed under arrest and taken to the homicide squad of the Metropolitan Police Department. He furnished a signed statement admitting the shooting of the two FBI Agents, but added that it was in self-defense. His time on the Top 10 list remains the shortest of any fugitive – 2 hours.

Today in 1969, George was finally his chance by the rest of the Beatles.

HUMPDAY Extravaganza II: “The Humpening”

January 8, 2009

Saturday, January 10 at 11pm

Lynn Shelton’s latest opus, “HUMPDAY”, is premiering in competition at Sundance and we need your help to get it there…

“Hey, hold on just one second,” you might be kvetching to your computer screen right about now, “Didn’t you guys already throw a HUMP-DANCE fundraiser?!?!”

And to this, our reply would be: “Indeed we did!”

Unfortunately, the chosen evening of our original shindig happened to coincide with the “Great Seattle SnowDump of the ‘00’s”. This little hit from Mother Nature took quite a bite out of our fundraising goals for the evening since only a few stalwart, frost-bitten souls were actually able to get themselves there.

Thus, as they say in the Movie Biz: “Take Two!”

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC!!!! (Feel free to pass this invite along to others!)

Come by for
• A re-enactment of the unveiling of the beautiful HUMPDAY trailer!
• An Exclusive 3-minute Sneak Peak of HUMPDAY gems!
• A reprise of “HUMPUNCH”! Along with our signature drink: “The Swordfight”!
• The ever-popular “DJ HUMP”! (For reals this time!)
• A new, fabulous HUMPDAY raffle! With HUMPTASTIC prizes like:
– A night at the Renaissance Hotel!
– HUMPaLICIOUS Treats from Babeland!
– Membership to Grand Illusion!
– $50 Ice Cream Gift Certificate!
– A Mariner’s-Lover’s Dream Package!

Still, only $5/door!

“Sometimes male bonding can be taken a little too far. For example: when two straight dudes decide to try and have sex. With each other. On film.
HUMPDAY: a bromantic comedy.”

ps. Can’t make it to the party but still wanna help out? You can donate to the cause via PayPal at our website:

or write a tax deductible check to:
“Northwest Film Forum” with “Humpday” in the memo field…send it along to: 1515 12th Ave Seattle, WA 98122