With a script by William Goldman, George Roy Hill directed the story of two famous bank robbers of the Old West, Robert Leroy Parker (Paul Newman) and Harry Longabaugh (Robert Redford), respectively known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who spend most of their time running away from the law.
Even though the film starts with the insert saying “Most of what follows is true”, this historical fiction is loosely based on facts, and the comical aspect of the movie is what probably creates the gap between the real life of those outlaws and the fictive story of these lovely antiheroes.
The movie shows how the two outlaws are confronted with the advance of progress in the West, which makes their banditry not so easy. A great part of the movie shows the two friends riding away into the great landscape of the Wild West, while they are being hunted down by a determined posse paid by the Union Pacific Train. They finally decide to flee with the Sundance kid’s girlfriend, the schoolteacher Etta Place (Katharine Ross), to Bolivia, which seems to be the new Eldorado, so as to be free and start a new life. The West used to be a paradise for these two outlaws, a place where they could easily make money under the sun with no one to stop them; so they extend their expectations south, to Bolivia, and even mention Australia as a place to renew with their successful outlaw career.
The movie shows that the West is changing and that the two outlaws are not accepting it. As any typical Western, it gathers recurrent patterns of the genre—Western landscapes, guns, horses, trains, saloons, poker games and manhood—but it also portrays the new West with more unusual elements—the bicycle, newspapers, a highly secured bank, the South American frontier, New York City, etc. In terms of context, the movie not only pictures the beautiful, empty and huge landscapes of the West but also the busting and crowding Eastern cities as the main characters travel East to take a boat to reach South America. It seems that George Roy Hill wanted to show, in parallel with the story of the two robbers, the American history of media. He did so not only by including new technologies in the fiction but also by using all kinds of old technics for different scenes: a silent sepia-toned newsreel in the beginning, sepia photographs of their trip East to reach South America, while the rest of the movie is composed of colorful and moving pictures with sound and music.
The comic duo is embodied by two different characters, the mysterious and taciturn Sundance and the talkative joker Cassidy, whose relationship is portrayed as an ideal, faithful and generous friendship. As good friends, they seem to share everything from a horse ride to a girl. Indeed, the action of the movie is interrupted when Cassidy enjoys a lovely bicycle ride with Etta while Butch is sleeping. This long, romantic, and quite comical scene, which is devoid of dialogues but in which the mythical “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” can be heard in the background, is one of the unexpected, yet most memorable features of the movie. The music won two awards for best original score and best song, and the song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’on My Head” is now probably better known than the movie it was made for.
It is clear that the film mixes many genres, which can be surprising, but with its perfect duo of actors and its outstanding photographic work, the movie turns out to be a successful blend.
Through the unexpected journey of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, who run away unlike any self-respecting Western hero, George Roy Hill pushed back the limits of the West and the Western by redefining their frontiers.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
George Roy Hill
John C. Foreman