“I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid, but you’re still nothing but two-bit outlaws on the dodge. It’s over. Don’t you get that? Your times is over and you’re gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where.”
The 60s were a time of great growth and change in film, and no genre shows that more than the Western. Films like 1966’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly shook things up a big, and censorship loosened up in 1967, opening the doors to explore new territory. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, directed by George Roy Hill (The Sting, Slaughterhouse Five) and starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross, seems pretty straightforward by today’s standards, but was a huge jump forward for the genre. It’s also a fun Western with great characters and lots of effective humor. I’ve honestly never been a fan of the old classic Westerns, but I had a lot of fun watching this one.
The plot follows two outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as they move their gang toward holding up trains instead of banks. When they cross a wealthy businessman too many times, he hires a hit squad to take them out. They entertain a few ideas to lose the men tracking them, including fleeing to Bolivia, but one thing is clear: staying in Wyoming is not an option. Sundance picks up his girlfriend and the three of them make their escape and try to start life over where they land, but this proves more difficult than expected.
Butch, you know that if it were my money, there is nobody that I would rather have steal it than you.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was, in many ways, the antithesis of the Western genre. Old Westerns followed the lawmen, but this one focuses on the outlaws while the lawmen don’t even have their faces shown. Old Westerns showed a new world coming to life in the late 1800s, but this one take place a few decades later when the New Frontier is simply another place to live. Old Westerns romanticized the West and its heroes were true heroes, but this one gives us anti-heroes who seem to have no respect for the common tropes that had emerged in the genre—or the things once held sacred by Western films. But this is definitely an evolution of the genre, not a parody. Everything works well and the goal was just to tell a great story, not lampoon the classic Westerns. The humor comes from the characters, not the deviation from the norm, and this holds up nearly 50 years later as a great Western whether you appreciate its innovation or not.
But innovative or not, is this entertaining? Yes, it is! There were some genuinely hilarious scenes, and even the action was quirky and fun. The chemistry between Newman and Redford is fantastic, and the two characters are written so well that it’s a joy to watch them interact and play off of each other (and Ross’s character Etta is great as well). As someone turned off by the larger-than-life classic Westerns with their romantic ideals, this was a breath of fresh air, and it actually makes me want to check out some of the later Westerns of the 70s.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a great Western, but it also represents a major shift in the genre. In many ways, this is the symbolic death of the old classic Western, signaling that the genre must adapt to the rapidly changing culture or perish. But regardless of how you look at it, this is an entertaining Western film with plenty to offer modern viewers. If you’ve been turned off by campy old Westerns, or just want to see how the genre evolved over the years, give this one a try.
Director: George Roy Hill
Genres: biopic, western