Review: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969)

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Despite my general reluctance to say that the Western in its classical form was on the way out, it’s hard not to make such an assertion looking at the landscape of the late 1960s. The Wild Bunch is a common marker of the seismic shift leading to the complete obliteration of the classic western mythology, but there are some related themes strewn throughout Butch Cassidy that make it equally representative of an era or so one could argue.

The times were changing historically speaking and that plays out cinematically in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Bicycles are the future, destined to replace the old reliable horse. And the western hero as we knew him has long since gone, replaced instead by vengeful tough guys and in this case a pair of bank robbing antiheroes. Bonnie and Clyde were the new standards and out of that trend, we saw more like them.

So it’s not just the fact that the film takes place at the tail end of the Old West, slowly evolving into the modern, or New West, but simultaneously the genre would never be the same. There’s a bit of a wistfulness to it all. The legend is fun. The mythology is something to be thoroughly embellished, but it too comes to an end. It’s only a wisp of a memory made of sepia tones and silent newsreels. But Butch Cassidy and Sundance will be remembered fondly by the audience just as the West is. Maybe that is enough.

Unfortunately, Butch Cassidy as a film does have its shortcoming which became more apparent with time. It’s possible to be a dated period piece as this film is (although it’s hard not to love “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head). Still, it can be plodding and some would argue it’s about nothing substantial, nothing meaningful at all. Still, it manages to be one of the greatest western comedies of all time only eclipsed by its own heavy dose of cynicism.

It’s funny watching Butch and Sundance go through their motions. Butch (Paul Newman) is the brains who bemoans the fact that banks are getting upgrades and shipments are being made by trains. After all, they are constantly on the move and it becomes a constant guessing game. He’s given more grief by his gang that looks to overthrow him led by the hulking thug Harvey (Ted Cassidy).

And on top of that every lawman wants him dead. In such moments, being the idea man that he is he entertains thoughts of joining the army for the Spanish-American War or even going to a far off land like Bolivia. Content with his gunplay and letting Butch do the thinking, Sundance rides by his side, certainly his own man but also part of this comic duo.

William Goldman’s script is brimming with wry wit that’s almost inexhaustible. But Paul Newman and Robert Redford loom even larger as the titular stars in this epic buddy comedy. In the age where winning charm and star power still seemed like a genuine box office draw. You came to see actors and in 1969 there were few actors as commanding as Newman and Redford. They had looks and charm. Cool and comedy. Charisma goes a long way. For those very reasons it’s an impressive film and enduringly entertaining. If we cannot watch a film and enjoy it as pure entertainment at least on some level, it really is a shame because that’s one of the many joys of the cinema.

But there’s also something admittedly depressing in how their story evolves. It can no longer be about snide repartee and living the good life robbing banks, continuously augmenting their legendary notoriety. It’s light and funny for a time before slowly spiraling into a deadly cycle.

Perhaps my faith in Butch and Sundance wavered slightly but I will go on resolutely and maintain my immense affection for them that began as a boy. This is still a wonderful film. Outlaws do not have to be one-dimensional. They can be just as funny as they are depressing. That is their right and the legend of the Hole in the Wall Gang is exactly that type of story. We don’t have to see them die. Instead, we get the satisfaction to leave them in one last shining moment of triumph. One final triumph of the West as we once knew it.

5/5 Stars

The Graduate (1967)

thegraduate1“You’re living at home. Is that right?
Yes. 
Do you know what you’re going to do?
No.
Are you going to graduate school?
No.” ~ Elaine Robinson to Benjamin Braddock

As a recently graduated person, I thought it was only pertinent to return to this landmark film to see if I could glean any new insight. In many ways, the main premise of The Graduate always repulsed me. I couldn’t get behind the comedy because it seemed so at odds with what is going on onscreen.

But now I think I more fully understand Mike Nichols’ style as he leads us through Buck Henry’s script. There certainly is a wicked wit dwelling there, but there’s also more to it. He’s trying to undermine social mores and say something by switching tones on us. In this case, it seems like he’s talking to all those listless souls just set adrift after college. He was their elder, but in the characters of Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and some respects Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross), young people found their equals.  People they could relate to in their own anxiety and at times apathy about the future. And it’s as much Elaine’s story as it is Ben’s since they both are riding off into the great unknown of their future together.

Thus, this isn’t just about an affair, though that did help to shatter the Production Codes. There is so much more that actually causes Benjamin to get involved with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). The implications extend far beyond.While The Graduate‘s main hook seems rather curious, the rest isn’t all that crazy. In fact, it’s quite relatable.

We get our first view of Ben, sullen and anxious as he rides the moving walkway in the airport terminal. The haunting vocals of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” ring in our ears, but there’s also that almost comical voice reminding travelers to use the handrails.

It’s when he touches down and gets home that things become all too real. He’s entering back into his parent’s world which is reinforced by this general theme of suffocation and in some sense alienation, fawned over by parent’s friends and encased in a scuba suit. Ironically, he’s no hippie or counter-cultural revolutionary, but he still feels at odds with the community he finds himself in. There’s a generational gap, and even Hoffman’s own portrayal is so contrary to this WASP society. In casting Hoffman, not a particularly handsome young man, an atypical example,  Nichols is ratcheting up the irony.

thegraduate2Then Mrs. Robinson coolly enters his life. It’s perhaps best signified when she tosses him the keys. They end up in the fish tank almost as if on purpose and after that she has him reeling for good. Soon he’s walking into the lion’s den (or lioness’s) as she expertly manipulates and elicits the precise response from him. In these moments the film is elevated by the awkward, huffing and puffing, and nervous chattering of Hoffman. We often forget the second part of his famed line, “Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” His general naivete and hesitancy say it all.

I also made a startling discovery. Ben doesn’t have any friends! Or else, where are they? The inference perhaps being that he spent so much time being a track star, being on the debate team, and being editor of the paper that he never stopped to do the other things that college is all about. Building relationships with other human beings your own age. When he gets out and realizes his directionless anxiety, he tries to remedy it in other ways. The most obvious way is sleeping with Mrs. Robinson.

thegraduatesBut when he meets Elaine Robinson and finally begins to connect with her on a peer-to-peer level, it’s something so profound to him. Having someone his own age that he can relate to, who feels the same unnamed apprehension and angst that strains on him. It’s what makes Ben become so mixed up. He has true feelings for her, while his affair with Mrs. Robinson only serves to poison all that could be good. And his illogical, unhealthy pursuit of Elaine continues to Berkeley where she is attending school. Still, Mrs. Robinson and her now estranged husband look to send their precious daughter far away from Benjamin Braddock.

thegraduateThat’s what makes his final Herculean effort all the more climactic. He bursts in on her marriage to another man and whisks her off to another life altogether. A life that seems exciting at first, because, oh how great it is to be young and in love. But once they climb aboard that bus in their tattered garments, have a chance to sit down and really think about what they are embarking on, you see something else in their eyes. The laughter slowly dissipates and as they look around nervously, they begin to somber up. True, Ben is no longer alone in an airport terminal, he has a fellow traveler, but that does not make the future any less unpredictable or scary for that matter.

That is the life of a graduate. In so many ways feeling like an outsider, a foreigner in a land that you used to know. You’re living at home. You don’t know what you’re going to do and you’re not going to put off the decision by going to grad school. We’ve all been in a similar place one time or another and that’s why this film resonates, not only with the generations of the 1960s but even to this day.

What truly elevates The Graduate above Nichols’ other films, aside from this universal quality, is the stellar soundtrack courtesy of fellow New York natives Simon & Garfunkel, who became icons of the folk scene during the 60s and 70s. Their album Bookends is still a classic, featuring the fully polished version of “Mrs. Robinson.” While not all the lyrics are here in the film, it became an anthem, reflecting the gap created between the older generations and their kin. While the likes of “Sound of Silence,” “April Come She Will,” and “Scarborough Fair” lend themselves to the more introspective moments of the film like no score ever could. It’s part of what makes The Graduate a cinematic watershed of the 1960s.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)


Not that it matters, but most of it is true…

The film opens with some old sepia-toned footage of a notorious gang from the turn-of-the-century and that is when we meet our two anti-heroes Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford). Butch is the brains behind the operation (I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals) and Sundance is the brawn, with the most accurate gun in the West.

They make a living robbing banks and trains, but due to their lifestyle, they seldom come out ahead. Life becomes more difficult with tumult within the gang, a crackdown by the authorities and a price tag on the heads of Butch and Sundance.
Soon it becomes evident that their life of crime will never be the same with a professional tracker on their tails and a posse formed to see them hang. They are chased through hills, rock, water, and the like before finally getting away in one final desperate attempt at escape.
With one last brilliant piece of inspiration, Butch decides they should head for Bolivia to lay low, and soon enough they pack their bags and bring along The Kid’s girl (Katharine Ross) to the promised land of South America. They get more than they bargained for thanks to the language barrier and a lack of decent plunder. However, even abroad, their legend grows, winning them the new moniker “Banditos Yanquis.” The pair takes a stint on the right side of the law for once, but it somehow seems bleaker than their early days as bandits. It is evident that the hourglass is running out on them. And so it does, but not without one final glorious battle to cement the aura around two legends of the West.
I will not go so far as to call Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid a masterpiece because I have read too many reviews to know that there has been a great deal of division over the film. I can only speak from my own experience when I say that I quickly grew to love this story. This appreciation stems from the spot on chemistry of Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Their outlaws are not your typical thugs but lovable buffoons you cannot help but cheer for through all their screw-ups and pratfalls. Paul Newman has his ever-present mischievous smile plastered on his face, and Redford plays the cool and collected Kid to the tee. Perfect casting for the roles and to think it might have been Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty.
 
They got together again in The Sting, which was another good film, although I will always be partial to their first collaboration. William Goldman’s script can only be described as a fun romp that accentuates the comradery of Butch and Sundance. The musical score by Burt Bacharach with the inclusion of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” is often at complete odds with what we have come to expect with classic westerns, but that suits the film just fine.
 
You see this is not your typical western by any means. It’s not supposed to be. Butch and Sundance are working in the twilight of the West. The horse is soon to be replaced with the future: the bicycles. Bank vaults are becoming more complex, fervor for the Spanish-American War is at its peak, and lawlessness is no longer going to be tolerated. Whether people realize it or not, this film is one in a final wave of classic westerns that finally petered out in the 70s. Now the western genre, just like the West before it, is dead. A dying breed of genre much like film-noir or even musicals.
 
That’s why Butch Cassidy works for me. People have criticized the constant change in tones, but this story never claims to be the absolute truth, and it would not be the same film if it did. This story of outlaws is not a history lesson but a legend about two infamous bank robbers. There are moments where we love these antiheroes and moments where we do not know quite what to think of them. They become disillusioned and beaten down by the changing times. Their ambush in Bolivia has only one apparent conclusion. It ended in a bloody and violent death. However, we do not have to see that for the sake of the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In one mythical moment, they regained their previous status. They went out as they came in, and they will forever be remembered as Butch and Sundance of the Hole in the Wall Gang. They have since been replaced by superheroes on the silver screen, but in their day and age, they were the original supermen — tarnished as they were.
What is amazing is that the film has not only resonated with audiences for generations, but with the leads themselves who really identified with their roles. That is perhaps the greatest compliment to its characters. 

5/5 Stars 

The Graduate (1967)

Some may see this film as a comedy drama that is not in the category of great movies. However I feel if nothing else, The Graduate is culturally significant because it ushered in an age in the late 1960s where films focused on trying to attract younger audiences. Along with its good writing this film was one of the forerunners in using popular music in its soundtrack.

*May Contain Spoilers

Starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, and Katherine Ross with direction by Mike Nichols, the film opens with Benjamin Braddock returning home from college. He has excelled in many ways and yet he feels bored and alienated from his parents. However the naive Benjamin soon finds himself in an affair with an older woman. This further confuses him as he figures out what to do with his life. His unknowing parents want him to date a girl attending Berkeley. Things become complicated since it turns out to be Mrs. Robinson’s daughter. Not wanting anything to happen between Benjamin and Elaine, Mrs. Robinson sabotages the relationship and tries to marry her daughter off while her own marriage goes down the tube. Benjamin who is ultimately in love with Elaine crashes the wedding and takes her away to face an unknown life ahead. With the help of a memorable Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, this film ushered in a new age geared toward the younger generations.

4.5/5 Stars

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

b0ce9-butch_sundance_posterWith the great combo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as the legendary outlaws, this movie is great fun. The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang became infamous for their exploits with Butch (Newman) being the brains and Sundance (Redford) the fastest gun around. Together these two robbed banks, held up trains, and all the while had a good time. At one point or another the law was after them so they fled to South America with one of Butch’s nefarious schemes in mind. However, it was not what they expected and they had to face their biggest challenge ever. With the odds against them, they went out fighting and the legend of Butch Cassidy and Sundance was forever solidified. This film is as much a lighthearted comedy as it is a western. Newman and Redford have hilarious dialogue that brings the film alive and you end up rooting for these two anti-heroes. Although it is a seemingly random addition the song “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” is an added bonus.

5/5 Stars

Butch: “Ah, you’re wasting your time. They can’t track us over rocks.”
Sundance: “Tell them that.”
Butch: “They’re beginning to get on my nerves. Who are those guys?”