1969’s Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) is the mostly-true-but-almost-certainly-embellished story of one of the west’s most notorious pair of outlaws. Set in the early 1900s, the film opens with a display of Sundance’s superior gun skills following an argument over a game of blackjack. We then see Butch, Sundance and their gang put down a leadership mutiny and hatch a plan to rob a Union Pacific train twice in a few days, once in each direction. We also meet Etta, who is a school teacher in love with both of them, but romantically involved with Sundance. They succeed in both their heists, but on the return trip, a train pulls up behind it with riders chasing them. Several members of their gang are killed but Butch and Sundance escape. They run to a safe house but are found out and have to quickly flee. They head out to a rock formation to make themselves harder to track, but are still tracked down. They eventually escape to Etta’s house and learn that the head of the UP has put together a gang that includes a sheriff from Wyoming and a Native tracker called Lord Baltimore. Worried they will be hunted down, they flea with Etta to Bolivia. They struggle with the scene in Bolivia and with the language but manage to rob some banks. When the heat gets turned up on them, they decide to get straight jobs for a while and get hired to protect payroll for a mining operation there. While guarding the payroll, they get ambushed and wind up killing that whole heist crew. They ponder what to do next and Etta decides to leave and head back to the US. They decide to start robbing payroll themselves, but get cornered after one of their attempted heists, wounded and trapped in a building. The last scene is them running out and open firing on the Bolivian militia hunting them.
What is interesting about this film is that while it has all of the trappings and scenery of a Western and certainly is a Western story, it is essentially a buddy comedy. The real magic is watching them crack sarcastic jokes and pick on each other. The situation with Etta is also interesting – it is sort of best described as a platonic throple except that two of the members are actually romantically involved. It has some of the usual failings of Westerns – the body count is massive but none of the characters ever morally reckon with any of this in the least – even when their own crew is gunned down. There isn’t even a Wild Bunch-esque honor among thieves here – Butch and Sundance kill and rob and care only about themselves and Etta. The characters are sorely underdeveloped and the action sequences are a bit cartoonish.
But the acting carries this one through – the best thing for the film is when Butch and Sundance are by themselves and talking. The film is an entertaining 111 minutes, the pacing is excellent and the scenery is beautiful. It’s worth a watch. As an enduring all time great film? I guess I’m just still not sold on the genre.
Production Quality 10/10
Rewatch Value 6/10
Total Score: 33/40