Most of what follows is true. In the early years of the twentieth century the mellow Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) led the so-called Hole in the Wall Gang, along with his great friend, the more uptight Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), who he was always having to get out of scrapes, such as the time when someone accused Sundance of cheating at cards, not realising he was speaking to one of the finest gunfighters in the country. But Butch had trouble in his gang as well when one of the members (Ted Cassidy) tried to usurp him; he could handle it, but how long could his illegal lifestyle go on?
The general consensus among those who have seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is that it's a high-spirited romp through a 1969 version of the Wild West until the audience is brought up short by its tragic ending. By no means was the reaction to this film all welcoming, with almost as many of those joyful at the entertainment value here were quite simply irritated by what they saw as a flippant and shallow take on the genre that was purely intended to render it something fashionable for its day, and inferior to its contemporary, The Wild Bunch, in every way.
The Sam Peckinpah film is seen as the movie for serious western fans, the George Roy Hill one for mere tourists who wouldn't know a John Ford from an Anthony Mann. But that is to underestimate Butch and Sundance, for even if it did not have two great and classy stars at the height of their charm, it is not the cheerful and breezy effort that it is to often considered to be. Those comparisons to The Wild Bunch are interesting, for they both feature themes of the modern world overtaking the past, making their characters anachronisms, yet while the Peckinpah is hard edged and cynical, this offers a more romantic and regretful look at the same worries.
And yes, there are Newman and Redford providing the yardstick to which all other buddy movies are judged, and that could be to its detriment as well, because that kind of film is often regarded as throwaway and the sheer proliferation of them since has cheapened the dynamic. But for films about male friendship, there are few more sincere than this, no matter that the real Butch and Sundance were a lot less likeable than their screen counterparts - they were outlaws after all, and didn't get that way by twinkling their eyes and firing off self-deprecating quips. Yet William Goldman's script recognises this is more about the legends movies make than real life.
We may begin the story with the duo in happier mood, and everything up to the second train robbery is designed for fun and nostalgic amusement, but once the gag with the too much explosive is over with, something shifts. That other train pulls up and unleashes the future, where there will be no place for good-natured men to rip off the big businesses just to get by: the head of the powerful company they have been stealing from is not going to allow this to happen again. And so the good mood of Butch and Sundance is knocked out of them over the course of the rest of the film, their previous mirth and optimism going the way of the dinosaurs, which is what they might as well be. This is saying that if you're not willing to adapt into the unstoppable march of time, then you will be forced out, no matter how nice a guy you are, and your situation will become desperate. So we really should be recalling the melancholy in Butch and Sundance, for that is what lasts. Music by Burt Bacharach, including that song.
American director, more at home with character than story, with a wide range of subjects under his belt. He started in television and theatre, and his first films were stage adaptations, but with The World of Henry Orient he appeared to find his voice in film. Other nineteen-sixties work included the epic Hawaii and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but he enjoyed a monster hit with light hearted western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.