Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, George Roy Hill)
Honestly, I don’t have any idea what to make of this. Some things you get and some things you don’t, and this semi-action movie that’s languid nearly to the point of being mindnumbing is one of those classic films I find truly baffling. It follows and fully sympathizes with the title crooks as a sort of anti-Wild Bunch, their professionalism and the casual frenzy of their interpersonal affairs intentionally dazzling until they’re quickly derailed within a protracted chase that more or less ensues for the rest of the picture, up to the moment of their maybe-maybe not demise. So the anti-Bonnie and Clyde too, I guess.
I can’t really say it’s a bad movie. It’s a western/comedy. It has Paul Newman, who I don’t like much, and Robert Redford, about whom I don’t really hold a position. Both are pretty good. Newman’s laconic performance is actually so perfectly fitted to his character here that I kind of love him in this picture. Redford, too, was probably only better in All the President’s Men. But this movie is so far out of my taste and capacity for interest that I can’t say a whole lot about it; I actually prefer The Sting. If you like wisecracking criminals robbing banks and shit, go for it. I found it insanely boring the first time through, personally, and ended up multitasking while it was on. This time I fared better but only because I read a plot synopsis on Wikipedia which helped me follow the things I couldn’t have otherwise for fear of zoning out; that indicates just how ponderously this thing moves.
During the credits, I was impressed at the number of interesting people who were involved. Katharine Ross doesn’t count. I love her in The Graduate, of course, but she was really sort of made for that (intentionally bland) role. But Cloris Leachman is somewhere in the movie, yay for Cloris Leachman. The cinematography is by Conrad Hall. The music is by Burt Bacharach (I’m not a big fan, but it’s interesting at least). The costumes are by Edith Head. The script is by William Goldman (come to think of it, I don’t really like him that much either). But hot air, all of it.
The film is directed by George Roy Hill. He made one of the most beautiful movies of the ’60s, The World of Henry Orient. All of his films are quite beautiful, really — he and Hall don’t do much that’s outrageously inventive with this one but it’s still a handsome production. The first scene is in sepia-toned black & white, and if the entire movie were filmed like that it may actually have maintained my interest. Later, there’s a black & white montage of still photos documenting a transitional period in the characters’ lives. It was the most exciting part of the movie. Oh, and I also liked the semi-ambiguous ending that rips off The 400 Blows.
My problem, I’m guessing, is the tone — the mixture of Burt Bacharach’s pseudo-Spanky & Our Gang score, the constant cutesy half-assed banter, and the weirdly tangential Treasure of the Sierra Madre story structure just strikes me as wildly off-center. And for a film with this much talk and so driven by personalities, I feel like we still barely know the three central characters. A decent movie, I guess, but it’s just not for me. But those with an inclination for what Quentin Tarantino calls “hangout movies” likely have a greater predilection for this material than I can; got lots of problems with The Sting but it provides more story material to sink our teeth into. But Butch Cassidy inspired David Fincher to take up filmmaking, so all power to it.
[Originally posted elsewhere in 2006, now with minor embellishments.]