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148. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, 1969

A fantastically fun and artful film that shattered the conventions of the Western movie


Paul Newman and Robert Redford see the approaching posse in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Not many films are extraordinarily entertaining and incredibly artful, but “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is certainly one of them. Because it is so immensely enjoyable, its artfulness can easily go unnoticed. With this film, colossal creative talents converged and brought their A-games, and the result broke the boundaries of the Western film genre while becoming one of the most entertaining films ever made.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford on horseback in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Upon its release, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (which I’ll call “Butch Cassidy”) became the most honored film at the Academy Awards with four Oscar wins (out of seven nominations), was the highest grossing film of the year, and for a period, one of the top-ten biggest moneymakers of all time. Its lasting appeal placed it on six of the American Film Institute's (AFI) Greatest movie lists, including as the 7th Greatest Western of All-Time, the 50th Greatest Film, and the 54th Most Thrilling. Even people who don’t like Westerns love this movie.


Timothy Scott, Charles Dierkop, Robert Redford and Paul Newman rob the Union Pacific Train in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Based on real people and events, the film takes place around 1899 and tells the story of two known outlaw thieves and bank robbers, “Butch Cassidy” and the “Sundance Kid”. “Butch” heads the Hole in the Wall Gang, who rob the Union Pacific Railroad enough times to piss off its owner, “E. H. Harriman”, who puts together a super posse with one mission – to kill “Butch” and “Sundance”. That’s enough to make the two robbers flee, and the film tracks the two outlaws as they run from the law. During their getaway, they are joined by “Sundance’s” girlfriend “Etta”, and the three end up in Bolivia where they try to go straight. Might sound like just another Western, but believe me, it’s not.


Robert Redford and Paul Newman make a toast in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

The relationship between “Butch” (played by Paul Newman) and “Sundance” (played by Robert Redford) lies at the heart of the film and is one reason it is so exceptional. Against a background of mutual respect, their wisecracking banter, sarcasm, genuine emotions, and how they amuse and comfort one another in times of self doubt, turn what should be straightforward scenes (such as a knife fight or bank robbery) into unforgettable occasions. Their bond is intoxicating, perhaps because they unselfishly care so deeply for one another. In J.C. Landry’s book “Paul Newman: An Illustrated Biography”, Newman said “You know, I don’t think people realize what that picture was all about. It’s a love affair between two men. The girl is incidental”.


Robert Redford can't swim and Paul Newman laughs in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Brilliantly played by Newman and Redford with humor, heart, and vigor, these actors (and characters) have an unexplainable magic between them that shines a light on the complexity of human beings. Their abundantly affecting, fun, and irresistible chemistry alone is reason enough to want to watch this film again and again, and their infectious bond is so strong that “Butch Cassidy” launched what became known as “the buddy film”, a film in which two people (often men with opposite personalities), go on some sort of road trip, quest, or adventure. Immediately after this film, a slew of buddy films emerged for a good decade (and are still being made today), such as "Easy Rider”, "Midnight Cowboy", "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot”, "The Sting", "The Last Detail", "The Man Who Would Be King”, and “Stir Crazy”, to name just a few.


Robert Redford and Paul Newman ride horses though Zion National Park in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

The other major factor that makes “Butch Cassidy” a standout, particularly for its day, is how it shattered the conventions of the movie Western. Up to this point, Westerns romanticized a view of America as a strong and powerful agent for good. This manifested in the form of a tough but noble good guy portrayed by highly virile actors (such as John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper and the like) who would fight bad guys to eradicate injustice. In the process, Westerns created their own archetypes and shared recognizable types of characters, a common tone, a certain breed of music, and a clear delineation between good and evil. Mostly set in the sweeping and otherworldly landscapes of the American West, all these elements transformed the American frontier into a mythic place.


The safe on the train blows up from dynamite in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

"Butch Cassidy" tore apart that Western myth by using modern dialogue, characters, temperament, music, and most importantly, by clouding the boundary between good and evil. “Butch” and “Sundance” are outlaws and killers, but are so human, they are far from purely evil, and the film turns them into folk heroes. It speaks volumes that both "Butch" and "Sundance" made it onto AFI's 100 Greatest Heroes & Villains list as the 20th greatest heroes. “Butch Cassidy’s” radically dissident approach to Westerns led to what became known as the revisionist Western.


Katharine Ross waits as Robert Redford and Paul Newman return home in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Because there are no definite guidelines as to what truly makes a Western revisionist, it can be said they’ve existed since the beginning of the movies. But arguably, official revisionist Westerns began in 1969 with two films, “The Wild Bunch” and “Butch Cassidy”. It’s no coincidence that both came the year after the Motion Picture Production Code ended its reign (which you can read about in my post on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”), for directors could now express themselves with minimal limitations, no longer having to make sure that (as The Code demanded) “in the end the audience feels that evil is wrong and good is right”.


Katharine Rosee, Robert Redford, and Paul Newman have a fancy dinner in Bolivia in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

“Butch Cassidy” came about because novelist and screenwriter William Goldman was fascinated by the story of outlaw Butch Cassidy. Goldman spent eight years researching Butch, particularly his many years with Sundance, and wrote a screenplay titled "The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy" with Jack Lemmon in mind as "Butch" and Paul Newman as "Sundance". Goldman had previously worked with Newman and showed him the script. Not 100% sold at first, Newman told Goldman to show him a revised script when there was one.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford share a horse in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Because of its unconventionality, when shopping the script to studios, Goldman ran into trouble. One executive told him he’d buy the script if “Butch” and “Sundance” stayed and fought it out with the posse, but Goldman explained that’s not what happened. The executive replied “I don’t care. All I know is John Wayne don’t run away”. Goldman stuck to his guns and made only minor changes, and suddenly studios were interested.


Ted Cassidy as Harvey starts a knife fight in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

20th Century-Fox bought the rights and director George Roy Hill was hired. Goldman and Hill went over the script every day for two months and produced a uniquely lighthearted, fresh, very smart screenplay which won Goldman a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award, BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) and Writers Guild of America Awards, and a Golden Globe nomination. It was his third screenplay, and Goldman went on to become one of Hollywood’s most respected screenwriters.


Katharine Ross, Robert Redford, Paul Newman read the paper about the possee in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

color photo of screenwriter William Goldman getting his Oscar for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
William Goldman

Chicago-born William Goldman began writing in college and wrote his first novel in 1945, the successful "The Temple of Gold". He also wrote for the stage, including the 1964 bestseller "Boys and Girls Together”. Actor Cliff Robertson hired him to help write his 1965 film "Masquerade", which was Goldman’s first screenplay. Next, he wrote the 1966 Newman hit "Harper", followed by the blockbuster "Butch Cassidy". Goldman won a second Best Screenplay Oscar for 1976’s "All the President's Men”, starring Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and wrote screenplays for several other Redford films such as "The Hot Rock", "The Great Waldo Pepper”, and "A Bridge Too Far". Other screenplays from his two dozen or so include "The Princess Bride", "Misery", "Heat", "The Stepford Wives", "Marathon Man", "Magic", and his final, 2015's "Wild Card". Goldman also wrote for TV, over a dozen novels, and some nonfiction books about film and Broadway, including the classic bestseller "Adventures in the Screen Trade” (for which he became renowned for writing the most famous line about Hollywood in Hollywood's history – "Nobody knows anything.... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work"), and "Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade". He was married once, and his brother was writer James Goldman. William Goldman died in 2018 at the age of 87.


Paul Newman scouts a bank for a robbery in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Goldman’s script couldn’t have ended up in better hands, for director George Roy Hill brought immense vision and creativity to it. The film’s opening itself is stylishly innovative, with a sepia-toned silent film of a bank robbery playing during the opening credits, leading to the film’s first two scenes – “Butch” in a bank (uniquely shot without an establishing shot of the bank) and “Sundance” playing poker (bravely shot almost exclusively as a closeup of him) – each in sepia, giving an old-time feel, letting us know this is a period film. After the second scene, the film dissolves from sepia to color as they ride away on their horses, subtlety turning this period film modern. It's pure cinema!


Ted Cassidy, Charles Dierkop, Paul Newman, and Timothy Scott are the Hole in the Wall Gang before a knife fight in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Hill uses luscious visuals, gorgeous camera movements, telling closeups, and stellar editing to streamline storytelling. A golden example is the knife fight between "Butch" and Hole in the Wall Gang member "Harvey". Many varied long shots of the gang with "Butch" are dotted with camera moves or cuts to closeups of "Sundance", “Butch", and “Harvey", adding tremendous tension. At the end of the scene, when the gang tells of “Harvey’s” plan to rob a train, “Butch” responds "Well I'll tell you something fellas, that's exactly what we're gonna do", and Hill immediately cuts to the moving train they are about to rob. It is a perfectly constructed scene with an exciting transition to the next one.


Robert Redford and Paul Newman hide on a cliff in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Further evidence of Hill’s skill at keeping us glued to the screen is how he makes a 27 minute chase sequence in which nothing much really happens, fabulously gripping through a combination of edits, sound (of horses approaching), performances, and cinematography. That’s no easy task. Hill’s direction is exceptional and earned him Best Director Oscar and Directors Guild of America nominations, won him a Best Director BAFTA, and put him on the world map of A-list directors.


Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross arrive in Bolivia in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

color photo portrait of young Hollywood film director movie maker George Roy Hill
George Roy Hill

Minneapolis-born George Roy Hill studied music, got a pilot’s license when he was sixteen, served as a pilot in the Marines during both World War II and the Korean War, and worked as a newspaper reporter. While studying music in Ireland, he became enthralled with theater. Hill acted onstage, returned to the US, studied acting, and made his Broadway debut in a 1951 production of "King Richard II". In 1952, he made his film acting debut in "Walk East on Beacon", followed by roles on TV. In 1954, he left acting, wrote and directed a TV episode of "Ponds Theater", and became a busy TV director, earning three Best Director Emmy Award nominations and a fourth for Best Teleplay Writing. In 1958, Hill began directing on Broadway with 1957’s "Look Homeward Angel”, and earned a Best Director Tony Award nomination. He'd continue to direct on Broadway through the late 1960s.


Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross ride horses in South America in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Hill’s film directorial debut was the 1962 hit “Period of Adjustment”, and following films included the 1966 blockbuster "Hawaii" and the smash hit musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie". Then came "Butch Cassidy", which took his career to a whole new level. Two films later he reunited Newman and Redford in 1973's "The Sting", an even bigger success, which at the time became Universal's highest grossing film in history, the fourth highest grossing Hollywood film of all-time, and made Hill (for a period) the only director in history to have directed two of the top 10 biggest moneymakers. “The Sting” also won Hill a Best Director Academy Award. Of the fourteen films he directed, others include "Slap Shot" (with Newman), "The Great Waldo Pepper" (with Redford), "Slaughterhouse-Five", "A Little Romance", "The World According to Garp" (in which he appeared as a pilot), and his final, 1988's "Funny Farm”. After retiring from directing, Hill taught drama at Yale. He was married and divorced once. George Roy Hill died in 2002 at the age of 81.


Robert Redford stars in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

While preparing “Butch Cassidy”, Hill watched Western films every morning to get a sense of the style and look he wanted, and in doing so, came across the work of cinematographer Conrad Hall. Hill loved the look of his outdoor lighting and how he captured the natural beauty of the West, and knew Hall was the only person to shoot “Butch Cassidy”. Fox didn’t want Hall, but Hill threatened to leave the film if he wasn’t hired. Hall got the job and worked closely with Hill, and even chose many of the locations for the chase sequence.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford find themselves cornered on a cliff in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Hall’s work on “Butch Cassidy” is sublime. His compelling compositions, asymmetrical framing, and evocative lighting drive us to look at the screen. He called his approach “magic realism” – filming things as they are, but knowing which tools (lenses, lighting and such) to use to capture it in a stylish manner that serves the story. He shot many of the film’s night scenes during the day (called “day for night” shooting), underexposing the film, so as to get more light in the distance and still make it look like night.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford see the super posse at night in the distance in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

The way Hall shifts focus from close-ups of “Butch” and “Sundance” to the distant posse adds an extraordinary amount of intensity, making for exhilarating cinema. Hall’s astounding work earned him a Best Cinematography Academy Award. It was his fourth nomination and first win, and he quickly became known for his exceptional use of light, composition, and natural look. Hall is justifiably recognized as one of the greatest cinematographers in movies.


The super posse go after the outlaw bank robbers in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
Color photo of Hollywood film cinematographer movie photographer Conrad Hall
Conrad Hall

Born in Tahiti to American writer James Norman Hall (who co-wrote the 1932 novel "Mutiny on the Bounty") and a half Polynesian mother, Conrad Hall moved to California when he was eight. Switching majors from journalism to cinema at the University of Southern California due to bad grades, Hall found he loved telling stories through visuals. After graduating, he and two classmates formed their own independent production company and put three pieces of paper in a hat, "director", "producer" and "cinematographer", and Hall drew the latter. He eventually began working on Hollywood movies as camera assistant, camera operator, and finally, cinematographer starting with the 1958 film "Edge of Fury". After TV work, he began his legendary film career with 1965's "Wild Seed", followed by "Morituri", which earned him his first Best Cinematography Oscar nomination. Hall earned two subsequent nominations for 1966's "The Professionals" and 1967's "In Cold Blood".


The Bolivian calvary surrounds the place in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

In his career, Hall garnered a total of ten Oscar nominations, winning three statues (the other two were for 1999's "American Beauty" and his final feature, 2002's "Road to Perdition”). He shot just over thirty features, including "Searching for Bobby Fischer", "Marathon Man", "The Day of the Locust", “Without Limits”, “A Civil Action”, and "Tell Them Willie Boy is Here" (with Redford). His many other awards include three Best Cinematography BAFTAs and four from the American Society of Cinematographers, plus their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. He was married three times, including to actress Katharine Ross (who stars in "Butch Cassidy”), and costume designer Susan Kowarsh. He had three children with his first wife, including son Conrad W. Hall, who is a movie camera operator and second unit director of photography. Conrad Hall died in 2003 at the age of 76.


Paul Newman and Katharine Ross star in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Another groundbreaking aspect of “Butch Cassidy” was its use of music. Perhaps because of Hill’s love of music, he desired it to be important and not just underscore emotion. He wanted three musical interludes, which was incredibly daring and risky, but Hill was a man with a vision, and they work tremendously well. Aiming for a contemporary feel, he went against the traditions of Westerns and hired pop songwriter Burt Bacharach to compose the score. It was a fantastic decision.


Katharine Ross and Paul Newman share a bike ride to the song Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

One of the film’s most iconic sequences is the first musical interlude – a bike ride with “Butch” and “Etta”. While scoring that footage, a melody came to Bacharach which turned into the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head” (sung by B. J. Thomas). Hard to imagine today, but this song broke so many rules. It was unWestern like, it’s a song about rain played over a scene in broad daylight, and the use of an entire song in the middle of a non-musical movie alone was shocking (this was well before music videos were even a concept). Fox executives wanted the song cut from the film, but Hill insisted it stay, as did studio head Darryl Zanuck, so thankfully it remained.


Katharine Ross watches Paul Newman ride a bike to the song Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Gorgeously filmed by Hall, who shoots “Butch” and “Etta” on the bike through fences and barn doors, the happy-go-lucky “Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head” evokes “Butch’s” easygoing nature while establishing his relationship with “Etta”. The joyfully catchy melody is also a reminder that the film is lighthearted, and its darker lyrics reinforce “Butch’s” optimism though nothing seems to go his way. It’s a terrifically brave sequence that has deservedly become iconic.


Paul Newman rides a bike to Burt Bacharach to the song Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

“Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head” instantly became an international smash-hit, topping Billboard’s Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts at number # 1, ranking at # 4 on Billboards Hot 100 Year-end chart, earning Grammy Award nominations for Best Contemporary Song and Song of the Year, and winning Bacharach a Best Original Song Academy Award. The song also found its way onto AFI's list of the 100 Greatest Songs in American Films, coming in at # 23. Its success opened the floodgates for songs to be used in movies, often merely with the hopes of having a hit like this. Good luck finding one as memorable and innovative.


Katharine Ross, Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

All three musical interludes gloriously forward the story through the use of montage. In them, Hill’s dynamic direction, use of dazzling visuals (including still photographs) are sensationally blended by Bacharach’s score. By all rights these sections shouldn’t work, but the harmony of these artists’ efforts makes them spellbinding. There’s reportedly less than twelve minutes of music in the film, all of which is so effective, it won a Bacharach a second Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, as well as Grammy and Golden Globe Awards.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford rob a Bolivian bank in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Portrait photo of pop music composer, icon, songwriter, arranger, record producer, young Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach

One of the greatest figures in all of popular music, Missouri-born, New York City raised Burt Bacharach composed over 500 songs, scored nearly a dozen films, composed several theater works, and was a record producer and arranger who became renowned for his timeless melodies and innovate arrangements. He is often remembered for the songs he composed with lyricist Hal David, which include mega hits like "I Say a Little Prayer", "I'll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Alfie", "Close to You", "Do You Know the Way to San Jose”, “Walk On By”, "What the World Needs Now Is Love”, "What's New Pussycat?”, and one of their biggest, “Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head”. Bacharach also wrote many songs without David, including the # 1 hits "That's What Friends Are For” and "On My Own”. On top of his two Academy Awards for "Butch Cassidy", Bacharach earned four additional Oscar nominations, all for Best Song, winning a third for "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)” from the movie "Arthur". In his career, Bacharach earned 21 Grammy Award nominations (with six wins), three Emmy Award nominations (with one win), seven Golden Globe nominations (with two wins), and a Best Musical Tony Award nomination for “Promises, Promises”. He was married four times, including marriages to actress/singer Paula Stewart, actress Angie Dickinson, and lyricist/songwriter Carole Bayer Sager. He was one of my mother’s favorites. Burt Bacharach died in 2023 at the age of 94.


Paul Newman stars in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color portrait photo of film actor Hollywood movie star blue eyes antihero icon Paul Newman
Paul Newman

Paul Newman gives a flawless performance as “Butch Cassidy”, the aging, cynical, brains behind the outfit. Filled with personality, “Butch” is an outlaw with a sense of humor, and Newman’s casual naturalness and underplayed comedy color all his interactions with a contagious playfulness. Newman also aces his serious moments, presenting “Butch” as a man with tremendous feeling, vulnerability, and intense reflection, such when he keeps asking “Who are those guys?” during the chase and finally realizes who they are, intently listens to "Sheriff Ray Bledsoe” as “Sundance” ties him up, or hears “Etta” say she’ll go with them to Bolivia but won’t watch them die. And the change in Newman’s face and demeanor after “Butch” kills for the first time is entirely heartfelt. Like the film itself, Newman's performance is funny, thoughtful, and moving. It’s an actor’s job to bring a character to life, and Newman makes “Butch” jump off the screen with aliveness. It’s magnificent work by a gifted, gifted actor.


Paul Newman looking pensive in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color portrait photo of young film actor Hollywood movie star blue eyes antihero icon Paul Newman
Paul Newman

At the time of “Butch Cassidy”, Paul Newman was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He had become an antihero icon starring in 1961's "The Hustler", 1963's "Hud" , and 1967's "Cool Hand Luke", and had just had a major hit with the film "Winning" earlier in 1969, opposite his wife Joanne Woodward. Once Newman came onboard, “Butch Cassidy” became a hot, hot property. He was originally to play “Sundance”, but Hill wanted Newman to switch roles, which turned out to be the right move, for Newman was reportedly struggling until he switched to playing “Butch”. Once he changed roles, working on the film became much easier for him. Newman’s endearing performance as “Butch”, and the film’s overwhelming success, turned him into the # 1 international box-office star of the world, and the highest paid.


A laughing smiling Paul Newman stars in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

This film left such a powerful mark on Newman's life and career that in 1986, he co-founded a charity organization providing camping experiences for children with cancer and other serious illnesses and named it The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Newman’s career shifted after "Butch Cassidy", as he made more personal films and less frequently played the antihero. You can read more about the life and career of Paul Newman in my previous posts on “Hud” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. Just click on the film titles to open those posts.


Robert Redford smiles and waves in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color portrait photo of young Hollywood movie star, film actor, director, icon, blonde male sex symbol Robert Redford
Robert Redford

Starring opposite Newman is Robert Redford in a star making role as the “Sundance Kid”, the fastest, most accurate gunman in the West. Like Newman, Redford aced the slightly comedic tone of the film while keeping it believably real. With a cool exterior that only “Butch” seems to be able to warm, Redford makes “Sundance” intriguingly mysterious while filled with personality and charm. Just one example from many comes just before the knife fight with “Harvey”, when "Butch" says to “Sundance”, "Listen, I don't mean to be a sore loser, but when it's done, if I'm dead, kill him” and “Sundance” straightforwardly replies “Love to”, before flashing a smile and wave at “Harvey”. It’s funny and makes “Sundance” completely alluring at the same time, which Redford expertly does throughout the entire film, including the iconic moment when he discloses a secret to “Sundance” while trapped on a cliff. Redford makes us care about and root for this killer, and “Butch Cassidy” catapulted him to stardom.


Robert Redford hides from gunmen in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

color photo of young Hollywood film actor, movie star, blonde male sex symbol 1970s, director Robert Redford with mustache
Robert Redford

Before “Butch Cassidy”, Robert Redford had made a splash in the romantic comedy “Barefoot in the Park”, and became largely typecast as the good-looking blonde guy. But Hill saw Redford’s rugged and warm side when he auditioned for Hill’s 1962 film “Period of Adjustment”. And Redford’s wonderful performance in “Barefoot in the Park” confirmed he could deftly handle comedy. From then on, Hill could only picture Redford as "Sundance". Fox only wanted superstars to play “Butch” and “Sundance”, but after Steve McQueen, Warren Beatty, and Marlon Brando fell through as “Butch”, Hill got his wish and Redford was cast. That’s when Newman switched roles from “Sundance” to “Butch”, and the film’s title was changed from “The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy”, to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.


Robert Redford plays poker while Paul Newman watches in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Hill was very smart in how he set up the relatively unknown Redford for stardom in his first scene, playing poker. The entire scene is nearly one steady closeup of Redford, giving weight to the actor while introducing us to the quiet strength of “Sundance”. It informs us that “Sundance” is "Butch's" equal, and that Redford is to be taken seriously. He and Newman met on the film, hit it off immediately, and formed a very real and lasting friendship. “Butch Cassidy” made Redford an instant superstar, and he’d go on to become one of the top stars (and sex symbols) of the 1970s. In 1981 Redford founded the Sundance Institute (named after this role), which holds the world famous Sundance Film Festival. You can read more about the life and career of Robert Redford (and the Sundance Institute) in my post on “The Way We Were”.


Katharine Ross stars as Etta Place in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color portrait of young movie star Hollywood film actress gorgeous Katharine Ross
Katharine Ross

The third star billed above the title is Katharine Ross who plays “Etta Place”, “Sundance’s” girlfriend. “Etta” tells “Butch” and “Sundance", “I’m 26 and I’m single and a schoolteacher. And that’s the bottom of the pit, and the only excitement I’ve known is here with me now”, before joining them in their escape to South America. She's the smartest of the three and the only one who can see the big picture, and Ross excels at playing straight man to the two outlaws. She not only makes “Etta” no-nonsense strong, but brings along a heap of vulnerability and mounds of startling beauty. By all means, “Etta” is not your typical Western film gal who does little more than fear for her man. Every time she appears, she brings something new, whether it’s news, a surprise, or a lesson in Spanish.


Paul Newman and Katharine Ross share a tender moment in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Ross counterbalances Newman and Redford with a strong presence and gobs of sensitivity. Though “Etta” is “Sundance’s” girl, like “Sundance”, she really comes alive around “Butch”. In fact, she’s at her most romantic with “Butch” on the bike and after, when he kisses her on the neck and she asks "Butch, do you ever wonder if I'd met you first if we'd been the ones to get involved?”. It’s a very tender moment played with care and love. It was thought that the real Etta might have been engaged in a ménage à trois with the two men, but because of censors, Hill couldn’t depict that.


Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Katharine Ross star in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

color photo portrait of young sexy Hollywood film actress movie star Katharine Ross with hair over eye
Katharine Ross

Katharine Ross had become a star with 1967's "The Graduate", which earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. She next appeared opposite John Wayne in "Hellfighters", and then "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" with Redford, shot by Hall, followed by “Butch Cassidy”. Ross was the only choice for “Etta”, as Hill thought “she was the sexiest girl I’d ever seen... and I was pretty much blinded to any other possible talent”. Though shot first, “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” was released after “Butch Cassidy”, and Ross was awarded a Best Actress BAFTA for her work on both. Though she met Hall on "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here", the two began dating when “Butch Cassidy” began filming and married about four months after filming wrapped. They divorced about five years later.


Katharine Ross sleeps on the ground in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

In an interesting tidbit, actor Sam Elliott plays the poker player accusing “Sundance” of cheating in Redford’s first scene. Elliott remembers seeing Ross on the set but didn’t talk to her because she was the leading lady, he was a bit player, and he knew she was getting involved with Hall. In 1978, Elliott and Ross worked together on the film "The Legacy" and began a budding relationship. When Ross divorced her then-husband in 1979, she and Elliott became more serious, married in 1984, and remain married today. You can read more about the life and career of Katharine Ross in my post on “The Graduate”.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford get jobs from Strother Martin in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

All elements in “Butch Cassidy” are first rate, and that includes the supporting cast, including Strother Martin who plays “Percy Garris”, the owner of a Bolivian mine. Martin’s manner and way of speaking is cheerfully amusing, as when he offers "Butch" and "Sundance" a job, or later exclaims, "Morons. I've got morons on my team". In just a few scenes, Matin creates a full-bodied portrait of a quirky man, adding much humor. He is a joy to watch.


Strother Martin runs a mining company in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

color photo of character film actor movie star Strother Martin in hat
Strother Martin

Indiana-born Strother Martin was an expert swimmer and diver as a young boy, and nearly qualified for the US Springboard Diving Olympic Team. He found his way to Los Angeles as a swimming instructor (reportedly teaching Marion Davies and the children of Charlie Chaplin how to swim), and was hired to play a springboard diver in the 1950 film "The Damned Don't Cry". That led to an uncredited role in "The Asphalt Jungle", which began a steady career as a character film and TV actor, often in Westerns. He found fame and immortality playing Newman’s sadistic warden in 1967's "Cool Hand Luke", uttering one of the most famous movie lines in history, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate". In his 30 year career, Martin appeared in 176 films and TV shows. His other films include "Slap Shot", "Harper" and "Pocket Money" all with Newman, "The Sons of Katie Elder”, “Attack!", "Kiss Me Deadly", "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", "The Wild Bunch", "Up in Smoke", and "True Grit". He was married once until his death. Strother Martin died in 1980 at the age of 61.


Paul Newman with prostitute Cloris Leachmen in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color photo of young TV and Hollywood film actress, comedienne, movie star Cloris Leachman with long blonde hair
Cloris Leachman

Two supporting actors have already appeared on this blog, one of whom is Cloris Leachman who plays “Agnes”, the prostitute “Butch” chooses to go with him upstairs in the brothel. Newman was having trouble with that scene, so Leachman and he improvised during rehearsals, which helped them both. As Leachman recalled in an interview: “I decided that he [‘Butch’] loved my long beautiful blonde hair so I went to the hair department and found a beautiful wig with hair down to my knees, and the only way to show it of course would be to be on my stomach and the hair on top. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to sing a song for Paul Newman’s fans?’ I thought ‘The Sweetest Little Fellow’ would serve the purpose: ‘with eyes of shiny blue, makes you think of heaven — da-da-da-da-da.’ So the producers said I could sing it and then when I heard it, it sounded like a cat mewing. We didn’t have time to fix it [laughing]”. Mainly working on television at this point in her career, "Butch Cassidy" was Leachman's fifth film. The following year she became a household name as "Phyllis Lindstorm" on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", and the year after that won an Oscar for her performance in 1971's "The Last Picture Show". You can read more about Cloris Leachman in my post on “Young Frankenstein”.


Kenneth Mars is the Marshall in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Color photo of Hollywood movie star, film actor, comedian, Kenneth Mars
Kenneth Mars

Another familiar actor to those watching the films on this blog is Kenneth Mars as the “Marshal” who tries to round up a posse before being interrupted by a bicycle salesman. Though he’s appeared in three films already on this blog, Mars might not be immediately recognizable since he is playing a dramatic role (his other three roles were highly comedic), but his commanding presence is ever-present. Like Leachman, Mars began his screen acting career mostly on television, and "Butch Cassidy" was his fourth film. He went on to appear in well over 200 films and TV shows (primarily TV), and you can read more about the life and career of Kenneth Mars in my posts on "What's Up Doc?", "The Producers", and "Young Frankenstein”.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford shoot it out in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Though “Butch Cassidy” was a hit with audiences, it initially got mixed reviews. Like many other critics, Richard Schickel originally felt it was too light and jokey, and later said “I think I was still kind of imbued at the time with the kind of classic values of the American Western”. As Goldman recounted years later “Hill and I loved this movie, and when it opened in New York, it got crucified. I think there might have been one decent review. In the rest of the country – wonderful. Around the world – phenomenal. But in New York… We went to see it the first night it was playing, on a Friday night, and we walked into the theater and the manager was happy. And we said ‘Why are you happy?’, and he said ‘Cause we’re doing great business and because the audiences love us’… we looked at each other and we said maybe it wasn’t a disaster after all”.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford star in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

In addition to Best Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, and Original Song Oscar wins, and nominations for Best Picture and Director, "Butch Cassidy" also earned an Academy Award nomination for its phenomenal sound by Bill Edmondson and David Dockendorf.


Paul Newman and Robert Redford as outlaw thieves and bank robbers in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

This week’s classic has humor, pathos, romance, adventure and tragedy. It is stunning to the eyes, stirring to the heart, and overwhelmingly entertaining. Enjoy “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”!



This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform through watching a recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and more. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications of every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!



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TO READ AFTER VIEWING (contains spoilers):




Paul Newman and Robert Redford shoot it out in the last freeze frame of in the classic movie revisionist Western film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Because Hill didn’t want to show “Butch” and “Sundance” being killed, he ended the film with a freeze frame, which became the most famous shot in the film and one of the most iconic endings in movies. It also helps mythologize “Butch” and “Sundance” by keeping them alive forever. The two actual outlaws were largely forgotten until this film brought them back into the spotlight.


old photo of the real outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Etta Ethel Place and their dog
The Sundance Kid, Etta Place, and Butch Cassidy at their ranch house in Argentina in 1904

For those interested in the real Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, here’s a bit of information:


Butch Cassidy was one of two famous outlaws in his day, the other was Jesse James.


Sundance was thought to be the greatest gunman of his time.


Though Butch headed one of the most ruthless gangs in history, he himself hardly harmed or killed anyone, instead using humor and brains to get what he wanted.


Butch began his criminal career rustling cattle before forming the Wild Bunch gang, which Sundance joined.


Because there was a Western film released earlier in 1969 titled “The Wild Bunch” (which had nothing to do with Butch or his gang), Goldman used the gang’s nickname, The Hole in the Wall Gang, in the film.


The Wild Bunch and Butch became notorious for bank and train robberies, including robbing the Union Pacific Railroad.


Union Pacific Railroad chairman E. H. Harriman filed charges, but didn't form a super posse. Instead, various lawmen and the Pinkerton National Detective Agency were after them.


Facing increased pressure from law enforcement, Cassidy and Sundance fled to Argentina in 1901 with Etta Place.


It’s largely thought Etta was a prostitute, and no record of a marriage between her and Sundance was ever found (though he sometimes introduced her as his wife).


Butch, Sundance, and Etta purchased a ranch and lived and worked together in northern Patagonia, Argentina for four years.


A detective from the Pinkerton Agency tracked them there and warned authorities that they were former bank robbers. Blamed for a bank robbery they didn’t do (700 miles away), they fled to Chile.


Out of desperation, they returned to a life of crime before Etta went back to the US. Because no one knows her real name (Place was Sundance’s mother's maiden name), nothing else is known about her.


Butch and Sundance did try to go straight and worked in a Bolivian tin mine, but again returned to a life of crime.


The circumstances of their deaths remain foggy. It's almost certain they died in a shootout ending with Butch shooting the fatally wounded Sundance before killing himself. But there are those who believe they returned to the US using different identities.


Unsuccessful attempts have been made in recent years to identify their remains with DNA tests on excavated bodies where they were supposed to have been buried, but none have matched.

6 Comments


Karen Hannsberry
Karen Hannsberry
Mar 20

Really loved this post, Jay -- I was especially interested in learning about the real-life players. I have seen so many clips of this film that I feel like I've seen it, but I haven't. I'm putting it on my watchlist right now, thanks to you!


-- Karen

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Mar 20
Replying to

Thanks Karen!! It is a definite must-see film. Would love to know what you think after you watch it. :)

Thanks for the comment. I so appreciate it - as always!

All my best,

Jay

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Mark Liptak
Mark Liptak
Mar 19

Great choice! An all time favorite. "Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?" Thanks Jay!

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Mar 19
Replying to

Another great line of dialogue - makes me laugh just to read it.

I too love this movie.

Thanks Mark!

Jay

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Carmen Martínez Aniorte
Carmen Martínez Aniorte
Mar 19

¡Genial! Aquí en España se tituló "Dos hombres y un destino". Buenísima de principio a fin.

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Jay Jacobson
Jay Jacobson
Mar 19
Replying to

Gracias un título divertido! ¡Muchas gracias Carmen!

un beso

Jay

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