March 3, 2006
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Grade: 65/100

Director: George Roy Hill
Stars: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katharine Ross

What it's about. Talkative and street-smart Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) teams up with taciturn gunslinger Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) to rob banks and trains, first in America, then in Bolivia. When not committing felonies, our affable anti-heroes hang out with knockout schoolteacher Katharine Ross. Set circa 1900.

How others will see it. In a "Married With Children" sitcom episode, the middle-aged husband and wife can't agree on a video to rent until they stumble on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This praised "four star" film is a crowd pleaser. Men can enjoy western action and occasional comic relief. Women can ogle famously handsome leading men, plus there's the secondary storyline of romance with heavenly brunette Ross.

How I felt about it. Most of what follows is true. These words are emblazoned onscreen to open the movie. By this, it doesn't mean that any of the dialogue was recorded by shorthand secretaries that hovered about our outlaw protagonists, in case it could be used for a screenplay seventy years later. Instead, the truth is in the general acts. The characters are based on real-life criminals who did, in fact, commit armed robberies, in the U.S. and South America.

But great liberties with the characters must have been taken. A "colorful" businessman hires Butch and Sundance as guards. This man spits every ten seconds, uttering "Bingo!" if his spittle heads in the intended direction.

Ross, the Perfect Ten girl next door, agrees without arm twisting to accompany two violent crime fugitives to Bolivia. Later, she decides to return home, again without the slightest argument from Butch or Sundance. You're going? Fine. Send a postcard.

This movie was made after the advent of 'R' rated movies. Yet these outlaws are pleasant folks who never curse, and don't shoot anyone aside from swarthy Hispanic bandits resurrected from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Even Woodcock, loyal defender of the safes of E.H. Harriman, only manages to get his arm into a sling. Indeed, Cassidy sometimes seems more concerned about the fate of Woodcock than the contents of the train vaults.

Aside from the odd sight of Cloris Leachman as a prostitute, the most curious event has Butch and Sundance idly watching a sheriff attempt to drum up a posse to hunt down the infamous outlaws standing unbeknownest a few feet away, while discussing the possibility of joining the army as officers to fight the Spanish.

The punch line is that Butch is supposed to be the smart one. But if he was really smart, he wouldn't be a bank robber. He'd be an embezzler, which never sent anyone to the gallows. But then, movies aren't made about embezzlers.

Arguably, the charm of the film comes from seeing two robbers act like engaging rascals rather than the stupid, desperate, violent, profane, and mean-spirited men they probably actually were. But this strength is also its weakness. The dichotomy of personalities and depicted events aren't credible.