Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)

by | Jun 6, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)
2-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition

Starring: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross
Director: George Roy Hill
Studio: 20th Cen. Fox 28
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DD 2.0 stereo English, DD mono English, DD mono French, DD mono Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Disc 1: Commentary by George Roy Hill, Lyricist Hal David, Associate Producer Robert Crawford and Cinematographer Conrad Hall; Commentary by Screenwriter William Goldman. Disc 2: 2005 documentary “All Of What Follows is True: The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; “The Wild Bunch: The True Tale of Butch & Sundance” featurette; “History Through the Lens: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Outlaws Out of Time” documentary; 1994 documentary: “The Making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”; 1994 Interviews with Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross, writer William Goldman, and composer Burt Bacharach; Production Notes; Alternate Credit Roll; Deleted scenes; Production notes; Theatrical Trailers
Length: 110 minutes (feature); 330 minutes with extras
Rating: *****

This quirky and good-natured Western won Academy Awards and established the “buddy film” as a much-imitated genre.  I should reveal right off that I generally don’t care for Westerns and this is the first time I saw this classic, but I loved it. The film was based on the lives of historical characters of the Old West.  The originals probably weren’t as handsome, friendly and funny as Newman and Redford, but they wouldn’t have resulted in such a terrific movie.

Butch is leader of the Hole in the Wall gang, and they specialize in bank and train robberies, being careful never to kill anyone in the process. Butch is the Big Thinker and Sundance is all action and gunslinging skill (the real Sundance was a cruel killer). Their relationship of bickering and friendship is beautifully communicated by the leads, who had never met before shooting began on the movie. They even keep it up at the end in spite of being seriously wounded.

The head of the railroad gets fed up with the gang’s constant robberies of his trains, and sends out a train with just one car filled with a super-posse on horseback who relentlessly track down Cassidy and Sundance. The Western scenery – shot in Utah – is a major interest of this section. (The box says “Ultimate Collector’s Edition,” but it’s probably not – and when it’s reissued yet again on Blu-ray the details of the scenery should be even more pronounced and the posse in the distance should be less of a blur. By the way, I compared this new release to the earlier single-disc edition and the picture quality looked identical.)

Though they have been cornered, the two outlaws escape by jumping off a cliff into a river. They realize they will be hunted down, and together with Sundance’s girlfriend Etta they travel to New York and take a steamer for Bolivia (Butch’s big idea). The director had planned to use the old New York sets built for Hello Dolly to shoot the trio’s adventures there, but that movie hadn’t been released yet and its director objected. So Hill had stills taken of the actors, pasted them into old photos of the period and gave it all a sepia toning for a quick slide show in the middle of the movie. Saved time and money and is very effective.

In Bolivia they attempt to go straight and ironically are hired as guards on a transfer of payroll cash from a bank to a distant mine. They are forced to kill the thieves who set upon them. Eventually they return to bank robbing, not letting the fact that neither of them speak Spanish hold them back. This produces some hilarious scenes. Three lighter scenes in the film are done without any dialog – only music.  One is the famous sequence of Butch and Etta clowning around on a bicycle to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

Picture quality transfers the director’s concept of achieving a dated look with sepia-leaning colors, an abundance of smoke and dust, and actors often backlit without frontal lighting. I was surprised the soundtrack was limited to stereo without a 5.1 mix for this reissue, but there was little stereo effect except in the three music sections, so perhaps there weren’t enough original tracks to work with. The huge collection of extras will keep fans busy for some time. Over two hours of it is footage not seen before. There are interviews from 1994 with Newman, Redford, and Ross, both old and new Making Of… documentaries (both worth seeing), and a host of other items.  I didn’t have time to listen to either of the Commentary options on the soundtrack, but I’ll bet budding screenwriters will be hanging on every word of William Goldman in his solo commentary on writing for this iconic classic.

– John Sunier


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