Original 1969 reviews of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

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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.

By WHITNEY WILLIAMS, Variety

“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.

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